4th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT took the chair at 2.30
T».m., and read prayers.
– I wish to ask ihe Minister of Defence whether his attention has been called to the following telegram, which appears in the Argus of to-day : -
PERTH, Tuesday. - A statement signed by twenty-one warders of the Fremantle prison controverts the assertion made by the Colonial Secretary (Mr. Connolly) in the Legislative Council last week in regard to the dismissal of Warder Wise for refusal to resign from the Military Forces. The warders state that Warder Wise’s military duties did not in any way interfere with his duties as a warder. and also whether the Minister has yet received any reply from the Commandant of Western Australia in regard to the dismissal of Warder Wise for.refusing to resign either from his official position or from the Military Forces?
– Having noticed the paragraph, which appears in the press this morning, I. brought along with me the reply of the Commandant of Western Australia, which reads -
Perth,21st October, 1910.
Secretary for Defence,
In reply to your wire E.2197 re discharge by State Government of Warder Wise, as far as I am concerned, I have to report that in August last I received a private note from the Acting Premier enclosing a file concerning this case, and asking me to speak to him.
In this file Wise made several misstatements, and also stated that he “could not be discharged from the militia until the expiration of his term”; this is the statement that the Premier asked me if it were correct. I told the Premier that I could, under regulation 184, discharge a man free at any time, and having perused the file and seen how the man’s attendance at drill had interfered with his prison duties, said that I would do so in this case if the man applied.
Later on I had an interview with the ComptrollerGeneral of Prisons, and he asked me to put this in writing ; this I did (see copy attached), and also referred the Colonial Secretary to a telegraphic report published in the West Australian on the 18th August,1910, giving a resume of the contents of the Defence Bill 1903-10, which gave the list of persons exempt, but did not state that same were “ in time of war.”
This reference was only to draw attention to the fact that the nature of warder’s duties were recognised as liable to clash with military duties.
G. H. Irving, Lieut. -Colonel,
Commandant, C.M.F., W.A.
In reply to the honorable senator’s further question, I may say that I have not yet received a reply from the Premier of Western Australia to the representations which I made to him by letter, in which I asked for a reconsideration of the case, and pointed out that the State Government had made an error in regard to the clause of the Defence Bill to which they had referred. I may add that I have also telegraphed to the Commandant of Western Australia, asking him what were the misstatements alleged to have been made by
Warder Wise, and requesting him to furnish me with proof that the man’s attendances at drill had interfered with his prison duties.
– I wish to ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council whether the Government have yet made up their minds as to the names which they intend to recommend for the Federal Capital and the Federal Territory?
– The Government have not yet determined upon a name either for the Federal City or for the Federal Territory.
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral whether any further steps have been taken in regard to the establishment of wireless telegraphy stations in Queensland ?
– The Government have now under consideration the advisableness of establishing wireless telegraphic stations, not only in Queensland, but throughout Australia. The PostmasterGeneral is looking into the matter in a businesslike way, and before any long period has elapsed we hope that the whole of the States will be connected by wireless telegraphy.
– I wish to ask the Minister whether it is likely that the matter will be decided before the prorogation of Parliament?
– I cannot say definitely the date upon which wireless telegraphy stations will be erected in any State, but I can assure the honorable senator that no time will be lost.
– The Minister means no more time?
– No time is being wasted. In the case of Thursday Island, the site has been chosen, and arrangements are being made for the installation of a wireless telegraphy station there, and also in Western Australia and in Sydney. In regard to the other States, the Government have the matter under serious consideration.
– Arising out of the reply given by the Minister, may I ask if he can indicate at what time communication by means of wireless telegraphy will be established between King
Island, which is situated midway between Victoria and Tasmania, and the mainland of Australia, or with Tasmania itself?
– I can only reply that the matter is at present engaging the attention of the Government and the PostmasterGeneral. If the honorable senator desires to obtain the exact date upon which it is expected that wireless telegraphy will be installed at King Island, I would suggest that he should give notice of his question.
– Certain reports from officers have been supplied at my request, but pending the receipt of the report of Admiral Henderson upon kindred subjects it is not intended to make any proposition to the Senate.
-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD. - Is there a possibility of Admiral Henderson’s report being received before the session closes?
– I cannot tell when the session will close, but I do not anticipate that Admiral Henderson’s report will be available before the end of the year.
-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD. - And nothing will be done until after it has been received ?
– I wish to ask the Honorary Minister when the regulations in regard to the taking of the census will be laid before the Senate?
– I understand that they were laid on the table of the Senate on Friday last.
– -I never heard of it.
– - The announcement was made from the table.
– -Ministers mumble in such a way that we cannot hear what they are saying.
-Colonel Sir Albert Gould. - I do not know whether I was absent from the Chamber when the regulations were laid upon the table, but I was not aware that they had been tabled.
– The regulations were laid on the table of the Senate on Friday last. Provided that a certain course be taken by any honorable senator within a certain period they can be discussed.
– I wish to ask the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs whether the regulations are in print, and if they are not, whether they will be printed and circulated before we have an opportunity to discuss them?
– The regulations in respect of the census questions will be printed and distributed in the same way as all other regulations are printed and circulated.
– I desire to ask the Minister whether I am correct in assuming that some time ago the Government promised to afford the Senate an opportunity to discuss these questions? I would also like to know whether the Ministry intend to afford us that opportunity?
– The promise which was made was that the regulations relating to the census questions would be /aid on the table of the Senate, and that, in the event of any honorable senator tabling a motion or an amendment in respect of them, they would be open to discussion.
– That was not the original promise.
– That is the definite promise which was made later on.
– The original promise was withdrawn.
– Can the Government withdraw a promise?
– The conditions attached to it were not fulfilled.
– At any rate, that is the promise which was made, and that is the course which the Government intend to follow.
– I wish to ask £he Government whether, in the event of any honorable senator tabling such a motion, they will furnish the Senate with an opportunity to discuss it?
– Time will be afforded honorable senators to discuss any matter of importance which may be brought before the Senate. It rests with any honorable senator to bring forward a definite motion. But I hope that we are now approaching the end of the session, and I would remind honorable senators that it rests with them when that much desired period will arrive.
– I should like to know whether the Vice-President of the Executive Council thinks that this is a matter of sufficient public importance to warrant time being given for its discussion?
– Order ! That is a matter of opinion.
– I should like to have a reply.
– The honorable senator’s question involves a question of opinion.
– I have no opinion on the subject.
– Will the VicePresident of the Executive Council, on behalf of the Government, afford an opportunity for discussing the census regulations?
– I have already stated that, if a motion is tabled, time will be given for its discussion.
Assent to the following Bills reported : -
Sugar Bounty Bill.
Excise (Sugar) Bill.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives with amendments.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
asked the Min ister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are -
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
Does the Government propose to take any action with regard to the payment for transferred properties this session?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is that the matter will be taken into consideration in connexion with the transfer of the State debts.
– I draw attention to the fact that the Vice-President of the Executive Council has not given an answer. My question was not as to what the matter of the transferred properties would be considered in connexion with, but as to when the subject would be dealt with. The whole point is one of time. I ask the Minister whether it is proposed to take action this session in regard to the payment for the transferred properties, either in connexion with or apart from the transfer of the State debts?
– The answer was as definite as it could possibly be. Whenever the question of taking over the State debts is under consideration by the Government, the question of the transferred properties will also be considered. Surely that is definite enough. I cannot say whether the matter will be considered tomorrow, or next week, or the week after.
– I now ask whether the Government propose to take into consideration the question of the transfer of the State debts this session?
– I should like the honorable senator to give notice of his question.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 28th October, vide page 5380) :
Clause 47 -
Land tax for each year shall be due and payable on such date as appointed in that behal by the Governor-General by notice published in the Gazette not less than one month before the date so appointed.
– It will be observed that the tax has to be paid for the financial year. As will be seen by a reference to clause 48, when the month’s notice given in the Gazette has expired a further thirty days have to elapse before any penalty is incurred for non-payment. So that practically the period for which Senator Gould asks is given. It would be going too far to give sixty days’ notice in the Gazette, and to allow a period of thirty days thereafter.
Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON (South Australia) [2.55]. - It is quite true that the tax has to be paid for the purposes of the financial year. But, of course, it is paid for the next financial year. The tax is levied at the beginning of the year, and the assessment is made on valuations at the 30th June. But the tax collected is for the succeeding year. Consequently a period of twelve months is available for the Government to get in the tax imposed. No harm can possibly happen to the revenue, and no impediment can be offered to the collection of the tax by the extension of the time. It has to be remembered that this tax has to be collected throughout the whole Commonwealth. I am sure that the departmental officer will come to the conclusion that a month is quite an inadequate period to allow.
– How does the area of the Commonwealth make it difficult for persons to pay their taxation?
– Because, owing to the size of the Common wealth, many people will not know of the date appointed. It is a mere matter of administration. Within the limited area of a State, perhaps a month’s notice might be sufficient, but having regard to the fact that New South Wales allows sixty days, the Commonwealth might fairly make this period a minimum of sixty days. Indeed, I should think that three months would not be too much to allow. The tax has to be collected within a year, and if the Government were to allow three months they would still have nine months ahead of them for getting in the tax. The penalty of 10 per cent, is automatic. Every person who fails to pay the amount due before the expiration of the thirty days will have to pay 10 per cent, on the amount of the tax.
– Honorable senators who read the clause will see that the period named is a minimum, and that the Commissioner may allow three months if he thinks it necessary. Power is simply taken to allow not less than one month. In some years one month may be sufficient. In other years two or three months may be required. Some latitude ought to be left to the Commissioner. Seeing that one month is merely a minimum, and that under the next clause thirty days additional are allowed, honorable senators might be satisfied.
– - I recognise that the period stated in the clause is the minimum period to be allowed, but what is the sense of putting in a minimum which cannot be complied with? We have had the statement made in this Chamber, time and again, by representatives of Western Australia and Queensland, that it is impossible to get a reply to communications sent to those States within a month.
– But there will be a Deputy Commissioner in Western Australia, whose duty it will be to give this notice there.
– Admitting that it i? barely possible to get a reply to a communication sent to Western Australia within a month, are not the Government proposing to cut matters very fine in proposing a minimum period which will be sufficient only on the assumption that everything will run like clockwork, and that no person notified will miss a mail. The VicePresident of the Executive Council has himself admitted the force of the contention of this side in saying that if necessary the Land Tax Commissioner can allow a longer period. In the circumstances I trust that the Government will agree to make the minimum period one which it will be POSvible to adhere to when the Bill comes into operation.
.- The difficulty I see is that the Government propose to issue this notice through the Gazette, and 90 per cent, of the people of Australia never see that publication. State notifications of this kind are published in the daily newspapers, and people are thus given some opportunity to learn of matters of this character. If this notice is to be confined to the Gazette, that is an additional reason why a longer period than one month should be given.
– I wonder whether in the framing of this, measure the draftsman and the members of the Government ever took their eyes off New Zealand. They seem to have followed blindly everything in the New Zealand Act. Does the Vice-President of the Executive Council know how long it would take for a notice of an assessment for land tax to reach Cooktown from the Commissioner’s office, and a reply to be received ? I can tell him that it would take about twenty-nine days.
– The notice could oe posted to Cooktown from the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Brisbane.
– Is there to be a different period in each of the States?
– Notices might be issued simultaneously by Deputy Commissioners in each of the States.
– I presume that as, in the case of income tax notices,, this notice will be sent direct from the office of the Commissioner of Land Tax. I have said that to communicate from the Seat of Government with Cooktown, and receive a reply, would take twenty-nine days, and, of course, it would take longer in the case of Normanton, Croydon, and Port Darwin. It will be quite impossible for land-own erS in remote portions of Australia to avoid the penalty under this provision. The person to whom the demand is sent is not to be given a moment to look up his books, or, should he think it necessary, to take legal or other advice in the matter. The errors throughout this Bill arise from the fact that a large number of legislators down here know little or noth ing of any place beyond the banks of the Yarra, and it is necessary to drive it into their heads that there are other places to be considered. Some were living alongside a ditch or creek until they came here, and they have no idea of the size and importance of the rest of Australia, and very little of the geography of the Commonwealth. This provision is absolutely impossible of compliance. When that is pointed out, the Vice-President of the Executive Council tells us that a longer period may be allowed ; but the Government should come forward “ wi,th a proposal which will give the taxpayers of the Commonwealth a reasonable opportunity to comply with the provisions of the law.
– So they will.
– If that be so, the Leader of the Government in the Senate can have no hesitation in accepting the suggestion from this side that the period provided for in this clause should be extended. That might be done without prejudice to the revenue or the administration of the Act, but with great advantage to taxpayers in remote parts of the Commonwealth.
– While I like to listen to the accusations made by Senator St. Ledger against the Government, I ask honorable senators opposite to be a little reasonable in dealing with our imperfections and the imperfections of the measures we submit to the Senate. Senator St. Ledger knows that to meet the exigencies of the Treasury this tax will have to be levied during the current financial year. Other honorable senators are also aware of the fact, and yet they waste time in endeavouring to make some amendment or another which may appear to them to be reasonable. They forget that the whole system has to be organized, and all the assessments made within this year. I should like to ask honorable senators opposite what position the Commissioner of Land Tax would be in if he had to give the sixty days’ notice suggested in this first year of levying the tax. If he can give more than thirty days’ notice he will give it when the Department is sufficiently organized. In future years I have no doubt the Commissioner of Land Tax will be able to give two or three months’ notice, but honorable senators must recognise the position confronting us at the present time. To listen to Senator St. Ledger one would think that Cooktown is in the next world and not in this world at all. A wire can be sent to Cooktown as easily as to any other place. When the notice is published in the Gazette under regulations which can and will be made, the notice will be posted at every post-office in the Commonwealth, so that people at Cooktown or Cairns-
– Is there a post-office at Cooktown?
– Yes, there is a post-office at Cooktown, and at Thursday Island, Port Darwin, Broome, Geraldton, Fremantle, and all these remote places. 1 can assure honorable senators opposite that the information will be spread, because the Government will require the money, and they will take every precaution that every taxpayer shall be given an opportunity to pay up his land tax right away. I have explained the necessity for making the minimum period one month for the first year, and I can assure honorable senators that no Commissioner of Land Tax would be so unreasonable as not to give abundant notice if time permits.
Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON (South Australia) [3. n]. - The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said two or three things which, on reflection, I think he will wish to unsay. He suggests that honorable senators who are seeking some little amelioration of this provision are bent on wasting the time of the Senate.
– No; I did not mean that.
– That is one of the things which I thought my honorable friend would like to unsay. He has unsaid it, and therefore we can drop it. Another thing the honorable senator said was a little amusing. He told us that as the Government needs the money the Commissioner of Land Tax will take ample care this year that every taxpayer shall be given an opportunity to pay the tax. That is just what the Government are not providing for in this clause. Senator St. Ledger was mistaken when he seemed to imply that some notice would be issued in the nature of a demand. There is to be no demand issued to the taxpayer. This notice is to appear in the Gazette, a publication which it is the solemn duty of every citizen to read and study. I am afraid that the duty is one which, like many other of the obligations of a citizen, the average citizen does not perform. This notice is to appear in the Gazette, and within thirty days after the date named in it this provision is to be applied to the taxpayer, and he cannot help himself. The money may not come in, but it will remain as a first charge upon his land, and after the expiration of the thirty days the taxpayer will be liable to an additional tax of 10 per cent., whether he knows anything about this notice or not. My desire is that as we are going to shear the lamb we should temper the wind to the lamb when shorn. The sole object of honorable senators on this side is to give the taxpayer the time which the VicePresident of the Executive Council thinks he should have to pay up. I agree that now that we have decided to impose a land tax we should take every possible means of seeing that it is paid by every citizen who is liable. I am appealing to the Government to take into consideration the question whether it is not a reasonable thing to make some provision for appeals? We do not know at present what time is to be allowed to a taxpayer to appeal against the assessment of the tax.
– A taxpayer must always pay the tax before he can appeal.
– The existence of the appeal will not affect the man’s liability to pay the tax, and he may have to pay pending the appeal, taking the chance of getting the money back if successful. Under the regulations, the Government may prescribe that a man must lodge his appeal within these thirty days. What will happen then?
– The honorable senator is assuming that everybody is going to be unreasonable.
– AYe fancy we have an example of it in this clause. If the time is enlarged, there will be no harm in prescribing by regulation that a man shall put in his appeal withinsixty days, if that will be a reasonable time to adopt, and, in the meantime, he will have to pay the tax. It will not stay for a moment the collection of the tax, but only give a reasonable chance to the taxpayer to understand what he is doing, and the obligation which he is incurring. That answers what my honorable friend said in regard to the collection of the tax within this financial year. I quite recognise that in this year there will not be the same time available as there will be in normal years. If my suggestion be adopted, it will give a reasonable opportunity for a taxpayer to know what he has to pay, and when he has to make the payment, before the fine of 10 per cent, automatically comes into operation. On that ground, I think that the Minister might very fairly enlarge the minimum in the clause.
Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (New South Wales) [3.18].- I do not know why the Minister should refuse to extend the time. I have looked up the New South Wales Act, and find that there is no particular time for the notice in the Gazette. There is nevertheless a period of sixty days afterwards, in which a man has to pay up before he becomes liable to a penalty. It is only reasonable, that the Minister should extend the period to sixty days, and then the tax would have to be paid within three months from the date of the notice in the Gazette. If the Bill becomes law by the end of this month, there will still be seven months of the financial year to run, so that within the financial year there will be ample time for the notice to be given in the Gazette, and time for the payment to be concluded. I do not want to propose an amendment. I prefer that the Minister should adopt our suggestion.
– The two answers which the Minister has given are contradictory. His% first assurance was that the clause only provides for a minimum of one month, and that the Commissioner, being a reasonable man, would take into account the physical difficulties in the despatch of the Gazette notice, and so on, and would extend the period to such time as he thought necessary, so as to give to every taxpayer a reasonable opportunity. His second answer was something which cut right across that. He said that the necessities of the Government might compel them to shorten the period, and that that is why he is adhering to the term of one month.
– Neither the Government nor any one else can say whether one month will be too little or too much this year.
– Yes, I can say that it is too little.
– We are taking a reasonable time.
– Again the Minister is contradicting himself. First, he says that nobody can say whether a month will be sufficient or not, and then he says that the Government have taken a month as a reasonable time. I do not propose to argue whether it is or not, because I can safely leave that to the consideration of those who are acquainted with the conditions prevail ing in the far-distant portions of Australia. The Minister now says that he is not considering the convenience or the fairness to the taxpayer, but only the necessity of the Treasury. He will not expedite the payment of the tax by adhering to the term of one month, but he may put the taxpayer to the necessity of being fined.
– Will not a man pay more quickly when he knows that he will be fined if he does not make the payment?
– A man cannot pay the tax until the time has arrived for him to make the payment. The honorable senator knows that there are parts of Australia to which it is practically impossible within one month to get a Gazette notice sent out and a reply in the shape of a remittance. The notices to be posted at postoffices will not reach the eye of many landowners, and consequently the Government will throw upon such persons the necessity of appointing a paid agent in Melbourne to be on the lookout for the Gazette, and to advise them and act for them. Does the Minister want to do that? Surely it will be enough to ask them to pay the tax without throwing upon them the additional burden of having to take the extraordinary step of ascertaining when the Gazette notice appears? If the Minister cannot see that, in fair play to the taxpayer, and with a view to making the Act work more smoothly, an extension of the period is desirable, I shall not press for an amendment.
– I think that the members of the Opposition are raising an unnecessary storm. The period which is mentioned in this and the succeeding clause will practically amount to two months. The Commissioner must give not less than one month’s notice, and then the taxpayer will have thirty days therefrom in which to make the payment. Honorable senators on the other side have spoken of the Gazette not being read by any one, but they know that the newspapers, both daily and weekly, extract and publish any information it contains which is likely to interest their readers. Surely it is known on the other side that that is done all over the Commonwealth in regard to much more trivial matters than the payment of a land tax? I have no doubt that the taxpayers will soon get to know when this tax is payable to the Treasury.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 48 -
Every person who fails to pay the amount payable by him in respect of land tax before the expiration of thirty days after it has become due shall be liable by way of additional tax to a further amount of ten per centum on the amount of the tax.
– - I desire to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that the fine of 10 per cent, in the case of a late payment is likely to defeat its purpose. If a man exceeds the allowance of one month, and thereby incurs the penalty of 10 per cent., he will have no inducement to pay his tax within a reasonable period. I suggest to the Minister that if the words “ per annum “ are inserted after “per cent.,” the fine will be cumulative.
– We do not want to be too hard on the poor man.
– I suspect the Minister when he indicates the slightest desire to be even fair to the payers of the land tax. If a man has incurred the liability to pay the fine of 10 per cent., he will naturally say, “ Instead of paying tomorrow, I shall wait two, or three, or four months before I pay, because the penalty will be no greater then than now.” What I am advocating has been demonstrated by experience in New South Wales. In regard to the payment of rents and other payments to the Crown, we started with this penalty of a percentage, and it was invariably found that once a man had exceeded the time allowed he would withhold the payment until the last possible moment. When it was altered to a percentage per annum fine, however, a man was fairly prompt in paying up in order to save the accumulation of interest. Unless my suggestion be adopted, business men and others will have an inducement to defer the payment of the land tax until the last moment. If the words “ per annum “ are inserted, the penalty will grow day by day, as the laggard taxpayer refrains from paying. Otherwise, he will hang” on to the last moment, unless he has exhausted the patience of the Department.
– It is very strange that amendments of such a subtle character should be moved without a true explanation being given of their import. I do not say that Senator Millen or any other honorable senator opposite would submit a proposal with a view to getting at the Land Tax Commissioner. But I wish to point out to the Committee the effect of the amendment which has been suggested. In its present form the clause provides that the taxpayer who is a defaulter shall pay a 10 per cent, fine upon the amount of his tax. Next year he will have to pay another 10 per cent, if his payment be not made within the prescribed period. Further, at any time after that period has elapsed, he can be sued for the amount which is owing. But what would be the position under the suggested amendment? If he did not pay the tax for three months after it was due he would be penalized only to the extent of per cent., if he continued a defaulter for six months he would be penalized to the extent of only 5 per cent., and if he did not pay the tax for nine months, he would be- required to pay only an additional 7
– I thought that the Government wished to treat them fairly ?
– But we also wish to treat the Land Tax Commissioner just as fairly. If Senator Chataway imagines that the Government are going to fall into the trap which has been laid he is barking up the wrong tree.
– - I find that in its wording clause 48 is practically a reproduction of section 54 of the Land and Income Tax Act of Western Australia.
– Therefore it must be right.
– No. The Leader of the Opposition is sometimes guilty of a feminine failing in that he jumps at conclusions. Tn view of the fact that Western Australia is the most recent State to adopt a tax on unimproved land values, we ought surely to be guided by its experience. Section 54 of the Land and Income Tax Act of that State, which was passed in 1907, reads -
Every person who fails to pay the amount payable by him in respect of land tax or income tax respectively before the expiration of thirty days after the same has become due shall, in addition to the amount of such land or income tax, pay, by way of fine, a sum equal to ten pounds per centum thereof.
My honorable friends opposite have created a fuss because it is proposed to allow the taxpayer a period of only thirty days in which to pay the tax. But I would point out that under the Western Australian Act Gazette notices can be issued from day to day, and in that State such notices have to cover very great distances.
– No part of Western Australia is more remote from Perth than it is from Melbourne, where the Gazette notice will be issued.
– There are places in Western Australia which are more remote from Perth than Perth is from Melbourne.
– But they are not more remote from Perth than they are from Melbourne.
– I admit that. In my judgment, thirty days is an ample period of grace to allow to taxpayers. If the Committee accept the suggestion which has been so wittingly put forward by Senator Millen it will fall into a trap. He has told us that if we adopt it we shall impose an additional penalty upon the taxpayer. When I hear honorable senators opposite advocating the imposition of additional penalties upon the taxpayer, I view any suggestion made by them in that connexion with suspicion.
– I did not suggest that.
– That is the impression which the honorable senator’s words conveyed to me. I think we shall be acting wisely if we agree to the clause in its present form. If we follow the example of the State which has most recently imposed the land tax, I am sure that nobody will suffer.
– - I thank the Vice-President of the Executive Council for having so fully demonstrated the soundness of the view which I have endeavoured to impress on the Committee. I argued that the clause offers no inducement to a defaulting taxpayer to make good his default in payment. The honorable gentleman himself has admitted that. He has said that the Government propose to levy the same penalty upon a land-owner who is one week in arrear with his payment, as they intend to exact from the land-owner who is nine months in arrear. Such a course of procedure is not only bad business, but it is absolutely unfair. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has conclusively demonstrated the fairness of my view that the penalty should accumulate as time goes on. He drew a picture of the taxpayer who was three months in arrear, another of the land-owner who was six months in arrear, and still another of the defaulter who was nine months in arrear. As the object of the clause is to insure the prompt payment of the tax, it can only achieve its object by making the penalty a cumulative one. In its present form it will defeat the object which it has in view. Any taxpayer who has incurred a fine of io per cent, because he is in default one day, will scarcely hurry round to the Treasury to make his payment the next day.
– He will come with his hat in his hand pleading to the Commissioner to let him off for that one day, and the Commissioner will do so.
– I have abandoned all hope of securing in this Bill any amendment, the wisdom of which has been proved by experience.
– I intend to move -
That after the word “days,” line 3, the following words be inserted, “or in the case of Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and South Australia before the expiration of sixty days.”
– And the honorable senator calls himself a constitutional lawyer ?
– What on earth is wrong with the Constitution now?
– We cannot differentiate between the people of one State and those of another.
– In view of the suggestion of the Vice-President of the Executive Council that the proposal which I have outlined would be unconstitutional, upon the ground that it would discriminate between the people of one State and those of another, I move -
That the word “ thirty,” line 3, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “sixty.”
In the first place, the notice of the date appointed must be published in the Gazette. That Gazette cannot be circulated amongst the people of the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia, and South Australia, and the payments made by them within sixty days, save in the most exceptional circumstances.
– The land-owners are sending in their petitions now.
– As soon as the land-owners forward their returns, those returns must be revised by the Commissioner. Subsequently, notices of the assessments have to be inserted in the Gazette, . and those notices have to be circulated throughout Australia. Surely, for the purposes of the first assessment, we should afford every citizen an ample opportunity of knowing the price at which his land has been valued. I ask honorable senators to recollect that those who assess their own lands will probably pay the tax promptly, in view of the penalty which the Bill imposes for failure to do so. Those who do not pay promptly will doubtless wait for some time. When the returns have been forwarded by the land-owners the assessments will be made, so that the revenue will be flowing in all the time. But in the case of the distant States we ought, I think, to allow sixty days as the maximum period of grace.
.- The land tax will be due thirty days after the publication of the Gazette notice. There are many people in Australia, however, who may not get information on the subject for a week or a fortnight. Some may be away from home, or in other cases there may be a delay in the delivery of letters. I cannot conceive why the Government should have any objection to make the period two months instead of thirty days, but I can assure the Minister that if he does not agree to the amendment there will be great disappointment.
Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (New South Wales) [3.46].- I am sorry that the Minister will not consent to an amendment of this character. It is questionable whether every taxpayer will get his notice within thirty days. Surely sixty days would be a reasonable time within which the taxpayer might be allowed to pay the amount of his assessment. In view of the fact that a 10 per cent. penalty is imposed, many a man who finds that he has accidentally overstepped the time will, realizing that, no matter how long he forbears to pay, the penalty will be no greater, allow the tax to remain unpaid for a much longer period. The object of the Government must be to get the tax into the Treasury. They should not encourage people to say, “ As I have exceeded the thirty days allowed by the Act, it does not matter whether I pay now or next month, and I will wait until I get a final intimation from the Commissioner.”
– This Bill will cultivate an intelligent interest in that very uninteresting publication, the Commonwealth Gazette.
.- I do not think” that people in New South Wales, as a rule, take the trouble to look at the Gazette. They look through the newspapers for information, or wait until they receive notice from the Government.
Question - That the word proposed to be left out be left out - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 10
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 49 -
Land tax shall be deemed when it becomes due or is payable to be a debt due to the King on behalf of the Commonwealth and payable to the Commissioner in the manner and at the place prescribed.
– Some difficulties that have been mentioned by the Opposition in connexion with previous clauses might be met if the Government adopted a principle which is embodied in the New Zealand and New South Wales Acts, both of which are mentioned in the marginal note, but which are not followed in this clause as it stands. The New South Wales Act says that the tax shall be paid at the “places” prescribed, and the New Zealand Act says that the tax shall be.paid at the “ place or places prescribed.” If the Government would agree to make the word used in this clause “places” instead of “place,” an opportunity would be afforded to persons to pay the tax in various parts of Australia instead of at one particular place. Under an income tax which was imposed in Queensland some years ago, provision was made for payment to clerks of petty sessions. That was found to be a convenient practice. I move -
That the word “ place,” line 5, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ places.”
– Any Commissioner wishing to administer such a scheme of taxation as this would naturally provide for the tax being paid at convenient places. I may also inform Senator Chataway that under the Acts Interpretation Act the singular includes the plural. Consequently, there is no necessity for his amendment.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 50 to 53 agreed to.
Clause 54 - (1.) Land tax shall until payment be a first charge upon the land taxed. … (2.) Where the Commissioner thinks it advis able to register the charge, he may lodge with the Registrar-General or Registrar of Titles or other proper officer of the State or part of the Commonwealth in which the land is situated a certificate under his hand describing the land charged, and stating that there are arrears of land tax payable in respect thereof ; and the Registrar or other proper officer shall register it in the register. . . .
– I direct attention to sub-clause 2, and suggest that the authority toregister should not be optional. The clause gives the Commissioner power to register the default of one landowner in regard to land tax, but not of another. The discretion is rather invidious. If it be desirable to register any land-owner as being in default, the condition should apply to all. There does not seem to be any justification for picking any one man out, and for saying that the Commissioner may register that John Smith is in default, whilst he does not register that William Brown is. also in default.
– An important constitutional question may arise in connexion with this clause. It is to be presumed that the Vice-President of the Executive Council is in constant touch with the Attorney-General, and he should be furnished with information when any constitutional questions arise. The VicePresident of the Executive Council should give some explanation of the way in which this clause will operate. I should like him to say what will happen where, under a State law, the Crown has a first lien upon the land? Such cases occur over and over again.
– Who is the Crown ?
– That is just the constitutional point I raise.
– The top Crown is the King.
– There cannot be any such thing as a top or bottom Crown. Evidently the honorable senator has not consulted the Attorney-General on this important point. Suppose the Crown, as represented by a State authority, registers its claim against land, and has under the law of the State priority over all encumbrances upon the land, how is the Crown, as represented by the Commonwealth authority, to enforce its claim under this clause?
– I do not need to consult the Attorney-General on so simple a question.
– The honorable senator’s mind is either so narrow that he cannot realize the importance of the point, or so gigantic that he is able to grasp it without any explanation whatever. I am assuming that he possesses an ordinary mind, and I should like to know whether he contends that the Crown, as represented’ by the Commonwealth authority, can make a claim which will be superior to a claim made by the Crown as represented by a State authority. If he does, I should like to know when and where such a doctrine was laid down in any of the British Dominions? The Crown is expressly mentioned as having certain rights and privileges under the Constitutions of all of the States of Australia, and I should like to know by what interpretation of the State and Commonwealth Constitutions it is claimed that the Crown as represented by the Commonwealth authority shall have priority over the Crown as represented by a State authority in a matter in connexion with which, under the Constitution of the State, the Crown is given a prior claim?
– Does not the Constitution say that where State and Federal laws conflict the Federal laws shall prevail ?
– The Constitution does not say that where the Crown makes a claim as represented by the Commonwealth authority it is superior to a claim made by the Crown as represented by a State authority.
– Would the honorable senator allow a claim by a Roads Board to take priority over a claim by the Commonwealth ?
– I do not understand the relevance of the interjection. What claim has the Commonwealth over roads, except it be for the purpose of using them for the transport of mails, and so on ?
– The Commonwealth could sell land to satisfy a claim.
– We have again a startling assertion made by a constitutional authority on the other side, that if the Commonwealth makes a claim against the roads of a State it can enforce that claim as against the State authority. The question I have raised was discussed in another place for hours, but the Vice-President of the Executive Council submits this clause without any explanation, and without any warning to the Committee of the possible conflict which may arise under it between the Crown as represented by the Commonwealth and the Crown as represented by the States authorities. The cases decided so far, though I do not say they are identical or analogous with cases which might arise under this clause, show that the Crown as represented by a State authority has all its rights unimpaired.
– According to that doctrine the Commonwealth authorities would have a very poor show.
– Not at all. Both Commonwealth and States exercise sovereign jurisdiction. Where the jurisdiction is sovereign and exclusive the Crown in each is paramount. The Crown under a State Act does not relinquish its rights in deference to a claim asserted by the Crown as represented by the Commonwealth authority.
– If a municipal or shire council has power to sell land, the honorable senator will not contend that the authority of the State would not prevail against that of the municipal or shire councils?
- Senator Rae should know that municipal and shire councils exercise only such powers as the Crown confers upon them, and the powers of the Crown as such are never delegated to a local authority. The honorable senator has never heard of a municipality claiming as the Crown, but he must often have heard of a State as the Crown asserting a claim against individuals. The titles of numberless cases show that the powers of the Crown, as represented by the authority of a State, are recognised. Every one familiar with land legislation in the States must know that there are many provisions giving the Crown, as represented by the State authority, priority over every encumbrance to inforce Crown claims against Crown lessees. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has given the Committee 110 indication that the difficulty I mentioned can be constitutionally overcome.
– I am not out for “ stone- walling. “
– But surely we are entitled to an explanation from the honorable senator.
– I shall give it when the honorable senator sits down.
– Squeezing blood out of a stone is an easy operation compared to the difficulty of getting any explanation from the honorable senator. The Government apparently contend that every time the Crown, as represented by the Commonwealth authority, asserts a claim, it will be recognised as superior to any claim asserted by the Crown under any other form of authority.
.- I know the fondness of Senator St. Ledger for constitutional discussions. They are like the bread of life to him. I do not blame the honorable senator, because he must make a reputation somehow, and he might as well make it in this way as in any other. No such doubt as the honorable senator has raised exists in my mind, because, on reading the Constitution, I find that, under section 109, where the laws of a State come into conflict with the laws of the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth laws are to prevail. If the Commonwealth has the power to impose a land tax, and a State Parliament has the power to impose a similar tax, or to deal with the land in any other way, and State laws affecting land come into conflict with the Commonwealth law imposing a land tax, which is to prevail? Does not the Constitution say that the Commonwealth law shall prevail? If there is a doubt on the question, who is to settle it? Not Senator St. Ledger, thank God, but the High Court. I am satisfied that the High Court will settle the doubt raised in this connexion in accordance with section 109 of the Constitution. I cannot see how it could be settled in any other way. Every one must acknowledge that where the sovereignty of the Commonwealth and of the States come into conflict, one must prevail. Under the Constitution, it is the sovereignty of the Commonwealth that must prevail, and I am quite prepared to leave the decision of the matter to the High Court.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 55 to 58 agreed to.
– I move -
That the following new clause be inserted “ 58A. Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, any taxpayer may apply to the Commissioner to have a valuation made of his land for the purposes of this Act.
The Commissioner shall thereupon or within a reasonable time thereafter cause such valuation to be made.
The making of any such application shall not exempt the taxpayer from the provisions of sections fourteen, forty-seven, and forty-eight of this Act, but -
if the Commissioner’s valuation shall be greater than the valuation shown in the taxpayer’s returns, the Commissioner shall notify the taxpayer to pay an amount equal to the difference between the tax assessed upon the Commissioner’s valuation and the tax payable on the taxpayer’s assessment, and the taxpayer shall thereupon become liable to pay the said amount, and in respect of same shall be subject to the provisions of section forty-eight of this Act;
if the Commissioner’s valuation shall be less than the valuation shown in the taxpayer’s returns, the Commissioner shall thereupon refund to the taxpayer an amount equal to the difference between the tax payable under the taxpayer’s assessment and the tax assessed on the Commissioner’s valuation.”
I hope the Vice-President of the Executive Council will agree that this is a very reasonable provision to introduce here. Clause 14 provides that the taxpayer shall make his return. Clause 47 provides for the notice, and clause 48 for a penalty in case payment is not made in due time. If this Bill is passed, and it probably will be, notwithstanding any opposition from this side, the Government will have the right to demand the tax whatever it may be. The Commissioner of Land Tax will say to a taxpayer, “ You have stated the unimproved value of your -land,” and he has to state both the unimproved and the improved value of the land. The Commissioner will say, “ If I form the opinion that you have undervalued your land I shall appeal to the High Court and subject you to all sorts of pains and penalties.” It must be remembered that if a man undervalues his land he is liable to a fine of £500 and to treble the amount of the tax, or to the forfeiture of the land. After all, a difference as to value is merely a question of one man’s opinion against another’s, and it may be an honest opinion on each side. The other day Senator Millen quoted valuations of land which had been given by different authorities, and which ranged from -£40 up to £100. If opinions can vary, and honestly vary, in this way, and a taxpayer feels that he has an honest opinion as to the value of his land, and it does not accord with the speculative value of some outside person, ought he not to have the opportunity of getting the difference settled in a fair and reasonable manner? It is admitted both elsewhere and here that sooner or later Government valuations will have to be made. I believe it will be found that opinions differ so greatly, and honestly differ, with regard to the value of land that the Government will be forced to make their own independent valuations for the purpose of carrying out the Act. There is no standard of valuation to be found anywhere in the Bill; there is no rule laid down by which a man can value his land. A man may say, “ This land is of a certain value to me,” and if somebody else chooses to say, “ It is of a much higher value to me,” it will simply be a matter of opinion between the men. Although the owner may be quite honest about his valuation, yet, if the Commissioner forms the opinion that there has been undervaluation on his part he can subject him to all these inconveniences and roundabout proceedings. It may be said that if the amendment were made every taxpayer might apply to have his land taxed. But I do not think that that is likely to happen. I imagine that in the bulk of cases there will be some rule by which the owner can fix fairly well the value of his land. Take the case of a man who lives in a State which imposes a land tax. At present the Bill does not allow a taxpayer to say to the Commissioner, “ Here is the value of my land as fixed by, say, the State of South Australia.” He cannot plead that as being the fair value of his land if the Commissioner holds a contrary opinion. No matter what valuation may be made, the Commissioner can still take proceedings against the owner under this provision. The Government ought not to object to a man who has an honest doubt as to the fair commercial value of his land asking the Commissioner to make a valuation. I would not object if the Government would accept my proposal with an amendment that thereupon, or within a reasonable time thereafter, the Commissioner should cause such valuation to be made at the expense of the taxpayer. I hope that the amendment will be accepted so as to remove the terror which otherwise will be in the minds of a good many persons. If it be inserted it will not do any harm to the measure or the Commonwealth, but it will do a service to the taxpayers. After all, thereis an ethical side of the question. I do not think that the Government ought to want to penalize a man because he is honestly of the opinion that his land is not worth so much as the Commissioner estimates. I certainly think that the provision ought to be inserted in order to prevent persons from giving an extraordinarily high value to their land merely out of fear of the terrible consequences which are apprehended from the measure.
– There are one or two reasons why I cannot accept an amendment of this sort. At the commencement of the Bill, “ the unimproved value “ is defined as what the owner would take for land if he received a bond fide offer. There is no owner who can have any doubt as to what he would take for his land. That is the simplest basis of valuation which could be adopted anywhere. Surely if I own a piece of land .1 should know what I am prepared to take for it.
– The honorable senator forgets that the owner has to divide that value between the improvements and the land.
– Yes, but he has to put his value on the improvements as well. He puts his own value on the land, and if, in the Commissioner’s opinion, it is an undervaluation, under clause 46 the latter will have power to say, “ That is the value of your improvements.”
– No, he takes the value of the land, not the value of the improvements.
– He takes the value of the land and improvements, and says to the owner, “ We will take the land and the improvements, and will add 10 per cent, to that.”
– Not at the owner’s value of the improvements.
– In that case a man might put in double the value of the improvements.
– Yes, but if he did so he would be liable under another clause for an attempt at fraud.
– I have no doubt the measure has a clause to meet a case of that kind.
– That is really why so many penal clauses are required in the Bill. Senator Vardon, of course, may have in his mind some very honest, decent owners who do not know what they would take for their land, who do not know what it is worth, and may value it too low, and so get into difficulties. Consequently these poor people want to be able to say, though Senator Vardon did not say so, “ We would rather not value our land; we will appeal to the Commissioner to get it valued, of course at our expense. If the valuation is satisfactory, we shall pay the tax, but if it is not satisfactory we shall be prepared to appeal against it.” If a provision of this kind be inserted, it will, as regards the Commissioner, be a case of “ Heads I win and tails you lose.” Concerning the great differences of opinion which have been referred to, the Commissioner would never hold a man guilty of undervaluing his land unless it could be proved that he did so with intent to defraud the revenue.
– The Commissioner has only to form that opinion to be entitled lc take the owner to the High Court.
– No. When the Commissioner is satisfied that an undervaluation has been made with intent to defraud the revenue, he goes to the High Court, and the owner has to prove that he had no such intent. That is a very fair position in which to put a land-owner who attempts to evade his share of taxation. The object of this amendment is to nullify all the penalties which have been provided for the purpose of arriving at a fair and legitimate value of the land and improvements.
– The last sentence of the Minister’s speech struck me as being most extraordinary. The proposition put forward by Senator Vardon is not to undermine, nor does it come in conflict in any way with, the provisions of the Bill. What it does offer to a land-owner is an alternative ; that is, a means by which, at his own expense, he can put himself on a good footing with the Commissioner ‘without incurring the pains and penalties of the Act. The landowners who support this proposition will practically come forward to say, “ We are prepared to pay blackmail rather than incur the liabilities under your Act.” There ought to be no necessity for making this provision.
– Let the owners go and get a valuation made privately first.
– Even then there is no guarantee that they would be relieved of the pains and penalties of the Act. They might produce the valuations of halfadozen highly-paid experts, and yet find themselves called upon to demonstrate their innocence.
– The proof that they had obtained an independent valuation would free them from a charge of intent to defraud.
– I admit that. But they are prepared to submit to this blackmail rather than to pay experts to value their land, knowing that they will afterwards be haled before the High Court. The Vice-President of the Executive Council spoke just now as if members of the Opposition desire; to assist taxpayers to evade their obligations to the Crown. I resent any such suggestion. There has been nothing said by honorable senators upon this side of the Chamber to warrant it. Their only aim has been to obviate the infliction of unnecessary hardship and injustice upon those who will be called upon to pay this tax.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council spoke just now as if clause 46 of the Bill provided for the protection of the revenue against the undervaluation of the improved as well as the unimproved value of land. But that provision does no such thing. It reads-
For the protection of the revenue against the undervaluation of land, if the Commissioner is of opinion that the owner of any land has, in a return furnished under this Act, understated the unimproved value of the land - lt makes no reference to improvements.
– It does later on.
– The whole question is: “What proportion of the total value ought to be allotted to the land, and what proportion to improvements?”
– The clause deals with the unimproved value of land, and all sorts of opinions may be held in that connexion. Only last week I quoted a case in which a man valued his land at £1 per foot, whilst his neighbour, who possessed exactly similar land, valued it at £4. per foot. Probably the former valued it at the price which he had paid for it, whilst the latter valued it at the price at which he was willing to sell. If the Commissioner formed the opinion that that land was worth ,£4 per foot, he would,” under this Bill, be able to subject the taxpayer who valued it at only £1 per foot to all the inconveniences and disabilities which are imposed by clause 46. My amendment merely provides that the taxpayer may request the Commissioner to supply him with a valuation of his land. It does not contemplate that he shall escape any penalty whatever. If the Government are not prepared to accept such an eminently reasonable proposition, it is evident that they are not ready to do a fair thing by the taxpayers.
-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (New South Wales) [4.36].- I fail to realize why the Government object to the amendment. They avow that their only object is to arrive at the fair unimproved value of land for taxation purposes.
– And who knows that better than does the owner?
– But the Vice-President of the Executive Council will not accept the owner’s valuation. He says that the owner must first make a valuation which the Commissioner will afterwards consider. The Commissioner has to satisfy himself that the valuation of the land-owner is a fair and proper one. The Bill provides that, in the event of the taxpayer’s valuation being 25 per cent, less than .that of the Commissioner, his land may be forfeited.
– If I were in doubt about the valuation, 1 should invoke the assistance of the Commissioner.
l- Sir ALBERT GOULD. - That is all that the amendment contemplates. It seems to me that no adequate reason has been assigned for refusing to accept it. It would merely afford the taxpayer an opportunity to pay upon a proper valuation of his land after a full investigation has been made by the Commissioner. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that any man can value his own land. He can, but he cannot be certain that his valuation is correct, especially if he has held the land for any considerable time. Only the other day I cited the case of a property in Sydney which was valued by two first-class valuators who were not antagonistic to each other, and whose valuations, which were made in the interests of the owners at Home, were, respectively, ^10,000 and ^6,000. The margin between these amounts represented an honest difference of opinion, and when their attention was called to it, both valuators declined to alter their valuations. The adoption of the amendment of Senator Vardon would not cause any money to be withheld from the Treasury for a single day.
– It would do away with the principle of individual valuations.
– Not at all. Clause 46 provides that the land-owner must satisfy the Court that he has not made an undervaluation for the purpose of defrauding the revenue. In other words, he has thrown upon him the obligation of proving a negative. He has to establish his innocence. Such a course of procedure is in direct antagonism to the cardinal principle of British jurisprudence. The least that the Government can do is to accept the amendment, instead of brushing it aside as if it were unworthy of consideration.
– I beg to call attention to the state of the Committee. [Quorum formed.’]
– - ^ seems almost a waste of breath to attempt to discuss this Bill. I have always understood that it was courteous for Ministerial supporters to remain in the Chamber for the purpose of hearing the arguments which are adduced in opposition to the measures submitted by the Government. But all the arguments which have been advanced from this side of the Chamber have not had the slightest effect upon honorable senators opposite. I can only conclude that they have received their instructions elsewhere. An excellent proposal has been submitted by Senator Vardon, and yet it has been treated in the most contumelious fashion.
– What is the proposal ?
– Here is a Ministerial supporter who has just entered the Chamber, and who inquires, “ What is the proposal?”
– Of course, Senator Stewart is a law unto himself, and he occasionally votes upon our side. Indeed, Senators Gardiner and Stewart are the only Ministerial supporters who have had the pluck to vote against the Government upon this Bill. I trust that the Vice-President of the Executive Council will yet see his way to accept the eminently fair proposition of Senator Vardon. 1 cannot understand why a law should be enacted which practically takes it for granted that every land-owner is a rogue or an expert land valuer. 1 look forward with considerable dread to what will occur under this Bill. Personally, I intend to make my valuation lighter than what I should regard as the probable assessment.
– This is another form of blackmail.
– I shall submit to being blackmailed rather than run the. risk of being pulled up as a defaulter, and taken to be guilty because I cannot prove myself to be innocent. I do not profess to be a prophet, but if this Bill passes, I believe that there will be such a revulsion of feeling that the Government themselves will be compelled to bring in an amending Bill next session. One honorable senator told me that he could not trust himself to get up to speak in regard to the measure, because he was so angry that he might say something that he might regret.
– We will put up the tax another 2d. or 3d. in the £1 next session.
– If I had my way, I would not make any exemption ; I would make every land-owner pay something. As it is, not more than 5 per cent, of the land-owners of Australia will pay this tax. Really, one cannot stand this sort of thing without a protest.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council was very insistent in his affirmation that no one was so competent to judge the value of land as the owner himself. But the Minister seems to overlook the fact that the pitfall which this Bill places in the way of the owner is in making a division between the total value of his estate and the value of the improvements upon it. A land-owner may say, “ I value my property at £5 an acre, and am willing to sell at that price.” But he is not allowed to remain there. He may put in the total value of his estate at £5 per acre, and that may be the honest value. But then he has to divide the £5 between the value of the land itself and the value of the improvements ; and that is where the trouble is going to occur. The owner may say, “ I value the land itself at £3 per acre, and the improvements at £2.” But when the matter goes before the Commissioner, he may say, “ I divide that value into £4. for the land, and £1 for the improvements “ ; and that being a difference of more than 25 per cent, the Commissioner may proceed to put clause 46 into operation. It is idle to say that the landowner, because he is the best judge of the value of his property, ought to be penalized if some other valuator differs from him in the extent to which the total value of the estate should be divided as between the land and the improvements. What would the Government lose by adopting this amendment ?
– They would lose whatever value there is in the clauses which the Opposition fought against last week.
– This amendment does not destroy the value of those clauses. It simply offers an alternative to a landowner who is unable to determine the value of the improvements on his own estate. A land-owner who hesitated to take the risk of determining under which portion of the definition part of the Bill he would separate the value of the improvements and the value of the land on his estate would, under the amendment, be able to say to the Commissioner, “ Call in a valuator of your own, and I will pay him rather than take the risk of deciding how much of my estate is represented by land, and how much by improvements.” If the purpose of this Bill be merely to collect a tax, and to break up big estates, there is no reason on earth why the amendment should not be accepted. I can only adduce one reason why it should be objected to, and that is because it offers a fair and honest means of enabling a land-owner to demonstrate the value of his estate. Senator Walker has told us frankly that he is going to return his land at higher than he believes to be the true value in order to escape the pitfalls of the Bill.
– It is a good method of getting at some arrears that ought to have been paid up twenty years ago.
– Then we are to understand that the reason why the supporters of the Government object to this amendment is not because they regard it as inimical to the tax, but because the Bill as it stands enables them, in a vindictive spirit of retaliation, to strike at a class which they think has in the past escaped a just measure of taxation. That this is nothing but retaliation must be realized by honorable senators opposite with the aid of that little remnant of conscience which they still have left.
– - There is no doubt that by means of this Bill the Government regard the land-owners of Australia just as the Yankee in the story regarded the negroes. He was speaking about the negroes being the curse of the United States, and his listener said, “ Surely there must be some good negroes.” “Yes,” said the Yankee, “ there are those who are dead, but some are not much good even then.” So it is with the land-owner, in the view of supporters of the Government. They are regarded as an undesirable class. Senator Rae, with his usual blazing indiscretion, has let out that this is a retaliatory tax.
– I never said anything of the kind; and, at all events, I never was blazingly dishonest in interpreting what an opponent said.
– Evidently the honorable senator does not understand the inevitable inference from his interjection. He stated that by means of this Bill the Government are getting back upon the landowners for what has occurred in the past.
– The honorable senator will want to correct that remark in proof before it is published.
– Yes, I am sure that he will when he sees his remark in Hansard. I was very glad to hear him make such a statement. I am glad to have it admitted that this legislation is proposed in a spirit of absolute vindictiveness and not with a desire to secure justice. Mark the contrast between this Bill and the system which prevailed in Queensland. The lands held by lessees in that State are amongst the most valuable in Australia for settlement purposes. There has been a constant conflict as to valuations between the Crown and the Crown lessees for the last twenty or thirty years. We have had no fewer than seven or eight amending Land Acts, the main purpose of which has been to secure justice as between the Crown as the owner of the land, and the lessees who have taken it up. The Government established a mode of procedure by which the lessee could obtain justice in case of a difference of opinion as to valuations. A perfectly independent Board was established, with a chairman having powers almost equal to those of a Judge of the Full Court. The members of the Board could not be removed from their offices except under some such conditions as pertain to the removal of a Judge of the High Court. While Parliament gave those strong and independent powers to the Land Board, they also gave a power of appeal to a Court presided over by a Judge, and they allowed a further appeal from a single Judge to the Full Court. At the same time, it was provided that if the decision were given against the land-owner he should pay the costs, which in many cases amounted to thousands of pounds. The strongest powers and the widest discretion were given to the Land Board in assessing from time to time the values of the rents due to the Queensland Government. No party ever objected to the right of appeal. But throughout this Bill not a single provision is made for correcting the values of the Land Commissioner, or for making him pay costs on account of any mistake that may occur while he is acting in the interests of the revenue. I do not know that any legislation in New Zealand or in any of the States of the Commonwealth is framed on these lines.
– This is something uptodate.
– Apparently, the honorable senator regards the perpetration of gross injustice in a spirit of revengeful retaliation as being up-to-date. The Commissioner of Land Tax will be human, and, therefore, liable to make mistakes. Usually where the Administration makes a mistake, it must carefully consider its position or abide the consequences, but under this Bill no provision is made for correcting a mistake made by the Commissioner of Land Tax. Suppose, in the case of an appeal to the High Court in the case of forfeiture under this Bill, and the valuation of the Commissioner of Land Tax is not sustained, he will be in a position to snap his fingers at the taxpayer who brings him into Court. He will have to pay nothing, and will be able to smile all round. There is no precedent for such legislation as this anywhere in the world.
– We are making precedents here.
– The Government, in this measure, are establishing precedents for the infliction of gross injustice. No honorable senator opposite will have the audacity to say that State or municipal authorities have not made unpardonable mistakes in the valuation of property for purposes of revenue. What is the remedy for such mistakes by Government and municipal servants?
– To get the owner to value his own property.
– Not at all. The honorable senator must be aware that where, under State laws, the Government are responsible for mistakes made by their officials, they take very good care that their officers shall not make mistakes. But this Bill does not contain any of the valuable safeguards to be found in other legislation against the blunders, wilful or otherwise, of servants of the Crown. The Vice-President of the Executive Council relies upon, his majority. As soon as we resume our seats, all he has to do is to send round the Whip, and the thing is settled. Unfortunately, Longfellow wrote his poem in vain. There are “ dumb driven cattle.”
– They are not in the Chamber at present.
– That is so, but the Vice-President of the Executive Council knows that he can call them up when they are wanted. I suppose there is not another legislative chamber in any part of the world in which a measure so largely affecting the future development of the country would be regarded with such absolute indifference by the supporters of the Government, and in connexion with which the Opposition would be met with so many flippant and haughty remarks from the Minister in charge of it The word has gone forth that every letter of this Bill must stand. I am acquainted with the details of a case which arose in Queensland in which an important municipal council greatly overvalued a city property. The valuation put upon it by the officers of the council was from 75 to 100 per cent, in excess of the value at which it stood in the books of the company, representing the owner. An appeal was made, the ground of which was that the value put upon the property by the company was 50 per cent, higher than the rental value capitalized. When the appeal came on for hearing, the counsel for the company said, “I am out for fight; this valuation of yours is monstrous.” The counsel for the municipality replied, “What do you want?” The answer was, “I am not here to auction; I am out for fight,” and before the briefs were opened the counsel for the municipality made an offer to reduce the municipal valuation by 50 per cent. Counsel for the property said that that was not enough, and still talked fight, and then a further ‘ offer was made to reduce the municipal valuation by another 15 per cent. Counsel for the property then said, “ I will accept that.” Here, upon an appeal, the valuation of an important municipality was reduced by 65 per cent., but if the Queensland Statute had been framed on the lines of this Bill the company and owner of the property in question would have had to submit -to the blackmail.
– But if the owner had valued the property himself all that difficulty would have been avoided.
– He paid on the overvaluation for a time rather than undertake litigation, but he got tired of it at last, and fought the municipal authorities, and others whose property was overvalued followed his example. In this measure the Government include drastic provisions involving even the forfeiture of the land, and give the taxpayer no protection such as he is given under State legislation, in having the right to appeal if he believes that his property has been materially overvalued. The State officials under such legislation are faced with certain risks, and they are in consequence scrupulously careful not to overvalue. Notwithstanding this, there are cases in which they’ do overvalue. Under this Bill, though a taxpayer, because he is unable to differentiate between the value of the improvements and unimproved value, honestly returns what is regarded by the Commisisoner of Land Tax as an undervaluation, he is made liable to all these penalties, and there is no provision in the Bill under which he can refer his valuation to an impartial tribunal, and say, “Value the property for me, and I shall abide by your decision.” That is the kind of provision for which Senator Vardon is asking. He does not propose to interfere with any of the clauses providing for the collection qf revenue from this tax upon fair valuations, but he asks that the taxpayer shall be allowed to refer the valuation of his property to an impartial tribunal. The Vice-President of the Executive Council will inflict a gross and manifest injustice upon taxpayers under this Bill if he does not accept the amendment. I have noticed a great contrast between the way in which this Bill was dealt with in another place and the way in which it is being dealt with here. When in another place questions were raised and suggestions offered by the Opposition, the Government ‘time and again agreed to the postponement of the clause objected to, the representations of the
Opposition were considered, and, as a result, various improvements were made in the Bill. What a contrast here ! We cannot have an “i” dotted or a “t” crossed. We are not allowed even to carry an amendment which would make the intention of the Government more clear.
– Whose fault is that ?
– It is the fault of the honorable senator. Why does he not deal with the Committee as representatives of the Government” dealt with honorable members in another place? .
– I have made many amendments in this Bill.
– The only amendments made were those that were suggested by the honorable senator himself. Does the honorable senator believe that he possesses all the wisdom and knowledge which may be usefully applied to the consideration of land legislation? The Opposition is being treated here at every stage of this measure with the profound contempt of which the VicePresident of the Executive Council is such an exponent.
– No, I respect all, but I worship none.
– The honorable senator is unable to worship anybody else, because he is eaten up by worship of himself. I shall not pursue the matter further. I hope Senator Vardon will press his amendment to a division, that we may place on record the fact that an equitable proposal was submitted to secure justice to taxpayers called upon to value their own lands, and how obstinately the Government refused to make the slightest change in their Draconian system of valuation and the still more Draconian penalties which they want to enforce against any mistakes.
Question - That the new clause proposed to be inserted be inserted (Senator Vardon’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 8
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Clauses 59 to 63 agreed to.
Clause 64 - (1.) In any case where it is shown to the satis faction of the Commissioner that a taxpayer liable to pay land tax has become bankrupt or insolvent, or has suffered such a loss that the exaction of the full amount of tax will entail serious hardship, a Board consisting of the Commissioner, the Secretary to the Treasury, and the Comptroller-General of Customs, may release such taxpayer wholly or in part from his liability, and the Commissioner may make such entries and alterations in the assessment roll as are necessary for that purpose. (2.) The Commissioner shall be the Chairman of the Board, and the decision of the majority shall prevail. (3.) The Minister shall cause to be laid before both Houses of Parliament as soon as may be after the close of the financial year a full statement of all cases in which, and the grounds on which, liability has been so released.
Amendment (by Senator McGregor) agreed to -
That the word “roll,” line 11, be left out.
.- I think it would have been more in accordance with fair play if some men of independent position had been put on the Board instead of three public servants. I believe it would have given much greater satisfaction if outside men had been chosen, because we cannot possibly expect that the Commissioners will be absolutely free from the spirit of the Government of the day. I urge the Minister to meet this view, in order that the public may have more confidence in the Board. Of course, the whole proposition is objectionable. It is bringing a man down very low to compel him to submit his affairs, not only to the Board, but to Parliament itself. That is a very humiliating position, into which I think no fair and honorable man ought to be put.
– I do not see that in this clause any injustice is done. The Board will be composed of men who occupy the highest positions in the Public Service, which they only attained by reason of their trustworthiness and merit. Senator McColl has stated that the provision will humiliate a man who is in difficulties. Is it not far better that his affairs should be submitted confidentially to three men of that kind?
– Not confidentially, because they can be brought before Parliament.
– Only a report can be brought before Parliament.
– No; a full statement of a man’s affairs.
– Even if it were brought before an outsider, the incident would have to be reported to Parliament, together with so many particulars as might be deemed necessary. But why is it necessary that it should be referred to Parliament at all? It is to prevent the thing which honorable senators on the opposite side wish to avoid, and that is collusion between a taxpayer who would desire to be fraudulent and the Board. We do not want anything of that kind to occur, and therefore provision is made for the presentation of a report to Parliament so that it may keep its eye on its officers, and see that everything is done in a straightforward and honest manner. With respect to the question of humiliation, there are many men who have become insolvent, and have been placed in very difficult positions, through circumstances over which they had no control. It is only in such cases that the Board can act, and it will be no disgrace to a man if he has been unfortunate in such circumstances. It will be the right of a taxpayer who finds himself in difficulties, caused by misfortune over which he had no control, to appeal to the Board for the purpose of getting a release from the whole or part of his tax. There is nothing wrong in the provision. I am sure that I should have far more faith in a Board composed of three public servants than in any outside persons who might be appointed.
– It is usual to give to income tax Commissioners very inquisitorial power. It is also usual in the Act granting such power to insure secrecy.
– Every public officer is sworn to secrecy.
– The Minister’s mind travels too fast; I wish he would wait to hear what I have to say. Sub-clause 1 contemplates a report to Parliament. Suppose that a number of these cases should occur. What is to prevent any member of Parliament from getting the papers in any case, or cases, tabled and printed ?
– Suppose that an injustice had been done to a man, for his own satisfaction he would want to see the papers.
– I only raise the question to point out the position of a man who is hard up, and makes an appeal ad miscricordiam for leniency to be extended to him, and at the same time has to run the risk of the case being dragged before Parliament, and made known to every member of the community.
– If there is a fair reason for making the appeal, there is no disgrace to the man.
– If there is no secrecy, why indulge in humbug? There is no fairness or secrecy about the provision. What encouragement is it to a man to state his hard case when he knows that any member of Parliament may drag into daylight any number of such cases? Members of Parliament are human, even those following the Government. Here is a nice means for any human politician, even on this side of the Chamber, to take it out of a man, or a number of men, if he likes to do so.
– What object would he gain by “ serving it out “ to men?
– What object has any vindictive human being to serve but the gratification of his vindictiveness ? Are politicians above it?
– I should be very sorry to think that any member of this Parliament would call for papers in a spirit of vindictiveness.
– What is the use of the Minister trying to put on a halo and wings before us? We know that they do not suit him. We know that over and over again when we are in a warm mood we do not stand upon nice distinctions.- Sometimes we take the gloves off, subject to the ruling of Mr. President, or the Chairman of Committees. I repeat that, under this clause, every member of Parliament will be able to “ take it out “ of a land-owner who has been released from payment of the tax. We are all human, and it is just as well te- recognise it. I ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council to postpone the consideration of the clause, with a view to affording us time to frame a provision which will insure that the decisions of this independent Board shall be guarded with secrecy. From the Income Tax Acts of the various States, we can easily shape a provision, by means of which our object may be attained. The clause evidences ait intention to extend mercy to the taxpayer in case of hardship. I trust that that mercy will he extended to him without exposing him to humiliation if ever he should come into conflict with any representative of the people in either branch of the Legislature. Will the Government postpone the clause?
– What a request for the honorable senator to make after he has bad neatly a month in which to frame such a provision !
– I have had a great deal to do, apart from looking into the Bills which have been submitted to this Parliament. What sort of an answer is that for the Vice-President of the Executive Council to give me? If my contention be a just one, the fact that I have had a month to look into the matter does not affect the position.
– Would the VicePresident of the Executive Council have given any better reception to an amendment by the honorable senator if it had been printed ?
– I ask _ the Vice-President of the Executive Council to afford the Committee time to frame an amendment which will insure that the decisions of the Board appointed to investigate any case of alleged hardship shall remain secret. He knows perfectly well that, as the clause stands, information in that connexion will be constantly asked for by honorable senators. If Senator Stewart saw that there was case after case in which u remission had been made of the tax, would he not desire to ascertain all particulars relating to them?
– I would as soon trust Senator Stewart as I would some other honorable senators.
– 1 dare say that I should be wise in anticipating a negative reply even to this modest request.
– - There will be any number of cases of hardship and ruination under this Bill. In my speech upon the motion for its second reading, I showed that some land-owners will be deprived of the whole of their income. Some whose properties are mortgaged up to 65 and 70 per cent, of their value will have the whole of their income taken from them.
– The honorable senator cited one case in which a property valued at only ^”78,000 was mortgaged to the extent of .£75.000.
– I did. In my fifty years’ experience of Australia, I have known of hundreds of cases in which landowners have been ruined. Under this Bill any number of helpless and innocent persons will meet with the same fate. The clause under consideration will merely expose their ruination to the public.
– Shall we strike it out?
– It would be just as well to do so. No proposal which emanates from the Opposition - no matter how sound it may be - receives any consideration from the Government. In these circumstances, I would suggest to my honorable friends upon this side of the Chamber that it would be just as well to allow the clause to pass in its present form, and to let the Bill go through with all its imperfections on its head.
– - The suggestion of Senator Fraser would be a very excellent one, only that I feel the Bill will go through, anyway. I indorse the honorable senator’s statement that the position of the land-owner will be just as good if the clause be eliminated from the Bill, as it will be if it be retained. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that he can see no injustice in it. Neither can I. But the clause is, nevertheless, an affirmation that there is injustice in the remainder of the Bill. It is a clumsy attempt to right the wrong. It provides that if it can be shown to the satisfaction of the Commissioner that the exaction of the tax from a land-owner will entail serious hardship upon him, the Commissioner .may refer his case to a Board of which the Commissioner himself will be the dominating factor. In other words, he may refer it from himself, as Commissioner, to himself/ as Chairman of the Board. Surely he ought not to be a member of the Board !
– Yes. He will merely accept the advice of the other two members of it.
– I wish to place upon record the rank absurdity of this clause. It is absurd to provide that the taxpayer must first satisfy the Commis sioner that the clause will inflict injustice upon him, and that the Commissioner shall afterwards be appointed the judge of his own actions. If the clause is to work equitably, any land-owner ought to have a right to go before the Board. But he has no such right. He has first to convince the Commissioner - the individual whose assessment is probably the cause of his ruin–
– He may have been ruined by some other cause.
– But the perilous position of the taxpayer may have been brought about by his having been compelled to pay the tax in previous years.
– There has been no tax levied in previous years.
– I am speaking of four or five years hence. Of course, I understand what Senator Rae means, namely, that this Bill will not remain upon the statute-book very long.
– It is marvellous what ideas the honorable senator puts into my head.
– The honorable senator ought to be thankful to me for putting any ideas there. In effect, the clause says to the Commissioner, “ You may block any land-owner from securing the advantage of clause 64 if you choose.” The Commissioner having made up his mind that the collection of the tax would inflict hardship upon a land-owner, will afterwards go upon the Board as an advocate of that land-owner.
– The Commissioner is a monster, according to the honorable senator ,.
– The Bill is a monster - not the Commissioner. Outside of comic opera, I defy Senator Lynch to find any greater absurdity than is represented by clause 64. That provision contemplates that the Judge shall be called upon to say, first of all, whether the defendant has made out his case. If he has clone so, the Judge will send it on to a jury, of which he will be the foreman. Unless the Commissioner is convinced that an injustice is being done to the taxpayer, he will not send the case on to the Board.
– It is not a question of injustice, but one of hardship.
– The Commissioner has to be satisfied that a hardship will be inflicted upon the taxpayer.
– The taxpayer is not appealing for justice, but merely for mercy.
– The Board appointed to investigate his case will not be created until the Commissioner himself has been convinced that the payment of the tax would entail great hardship upon the taxpayer. Then, before the latter is allowed to plead to the jury, he will have to convince one-third of its members.
– This is not a question of Judge and jury.
– Before the landowner can get his case before the Board he has * to get one-third of its members upon his side.
– A very reasonable arrangement.
– It may be for those who wish the clause to remain an empty placard. But Senator Rae would be the last to describe it as a reasonable arrangement if it applied to any class of the community other than to land-owners. If we wish to extend mercy to land-owners upon whom the collection of the tax would inflict hardship, they ought to be allowed to go before the Board as a matter of right.
– This is not a matter of opinion, but of fact.
– That a man has suffered loss is a matter of fact, but it is a matter of opinion whether the exaction of the full amount of the tax would ruin him. A land-owner need not be grateful to this Government for saying, “ We will relieve you of your debt after you have become insolvent.” The Bill does not give the man a right to place his case before a Board. The Commissioner can block him from securing that appeal - block him from appealing for mercy. On the contrary, however, if the Commissioner chooses to allow the man to appeal, then he, being chairman of the Board, becomes an advocate for the land-owner; because, having expressed an opinion that hardship was inflicted, the Commissioner, when the matter came before the Board, would have to be favorable to the appellant. Senator MColl has expressed the opinion that the Board ought to be composed differently. It is absurd to say that the Commissioner, who has the right to veto an appeal, if he likes, is then to be not only a member, but the most important member of the Board of Appeal. Another point is that this clause only operates where a loss has been incurred. It does not act in any way as a preventative.
What is the good of saying to a man who has already suffered a heavy loss, “ If you cannot pay we will not insist”? The clause ought to operate so as to avoid placing a man in that position. If a man says, “ I am not bankrupt, but if you levy this tax upon me I shall be,” the Bill does nothing for him. He must have suffered an actual loss of a serious character before he can be helped. Would it not be better to prevent that unfortunate result from occurring ? That is the very thing that I ask for in this clause, but it is the very thing that honorable senators opposite will not approve. They are not out to assist any land-owner in this country, or any man who owns any wealth, from being wronged. As long as a man has a penny left or a feather to fly with, Senator McGregor and those on whom he relies would be after him. If there were any possibility of carrying an amendment I would move to strike out the words “has suffered such a loss.” But I realize that there is not the slightest hope. It is not competent under this clause for any man to show the Commissioner that theimposition of’ the tax will seriously hurt him. The Bill will not help him until he has suffered so serious a loss that the tax would make him bankrupt.
– Of course, the imposition of the tax will hurt everybody who has to pay it.
– I am not speaking of cases of that kind. If there is to be such a clause in the Bill it would be better to say that the Commissioner may deal with what would happen as a result of the tax as well as with factors which have already happened. The chief objection to the clause is that to which I have directed principal attention - the absurdity of saying that a man has an appeal to a Board when there is no opportunity of getting to the Board if the Commissioner vetoes his application.
Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (New South Wales) [5.51].- Certain interjections have been made which indicate the opinions of honorable senators opposite who occasionally honour us by their presence in the Chamber. I observe that there are two or three of them present now.
– There are usually present more senators supporting the Government than there are members of the Opposition.
.- So there ought to be, as theMinisterial is the larger party. What is- more, it is not the duty df the Opposition to keep a House for the Government.
– I used to be a sufferer from insomnia before I became a member of the Senate; but now 1 can sleep while members of the Opposition are talking.
– As honorable senators opposite are so “ touchy “ about the matter, let us have a quorum now. [Quorum formed.]
– I am glad that the appeal has brought a few members of the Ministerial party into the Chamber; though I observe that they are drifting but again as soon as they find that they were not called to a division. At any rate, while they are present, we have an opportunity of directing their attention to the clause, and of showing whether any great advantage really pertains to it. My colleague, Senator Millen, has pointed out that the taxation Commissioner is the only man who can put the clause into operation. He has to be satisfied, first of all, that the taxpayer has suffered loss, and that the exactions of the full amount of land tax will entail serious hardship upon him. Then he has power to call in two members of the Civil Service to assist him in determining whether any relief should be given. The clause is very unsatisfactory ; because, before it can be put into operation, the Commissioner has to be satisfied that the individual has suffered loss. Let us see how it will operate : In the first place, a debt due to the Crown cannot be released except by payment.. Bankruptcy or insolvency will not relieve any man from liability for a debt due to the Crown. When he hands over the whole of his assets to an official assignee, and the creditors are paid so much in the £1, the Crown can still step in and claim 20s. in the £1 after the debtor has entered into business again ; and perhaps, by his energy and assiduity, is endeavouring to get himself into a fairly sound position. I should say that if a man becomes bankrupt, the Crown ought to prove its claim, and take the same position as any other creditor. The bankrupt, on obtaining his certificate of discharge, should be absolutely free from debt to the Crown, as well as from any other debt. The position of the Crown under the law is akin to that of a character in one of Shakespeare’s plays, who insisted upon the satisfaction of the full amount of his bond. It is time that a principle of that character Was treated as a fiction, and that the Crown should not occupy any better position than an ordinary creditor. I would allow the Crown, in the event of a land-owner’s insolvency, to make a claim which should be just as valid as the claim of any other creditor, and no more. Once he received a certificate of discharge his earnings should be free from any liability for debts incurred before the date of his bankruptcy. It should be noted that this clause goes a step further. It deals not only with a case in which the taxpayer satisfies the Commissioner that he has become bankrupt or insolvent, but with a case in which it is shown that the taxpayer has suffered such a loss that the exaction of the full amount of the tax would entail serious hardship. I should like the Minister to define what sort of loss is contemplated in this provision.
– Loss from drought, flood, ticks, fire, or other such causes.
– The Government propose that the liability for the tax shall attach to the land, and to relieve the >owner only of personal liability, which would probably be worthless, since he would have become insolvent, or be in a position in which he was unable to pay his debts. The Crown will still hold its claim against the land, and this must reduce its value if an attempt is made to dispose of it to meet the owner’s debts. I can cite the case of a company that has constructed a railway upon the land-grant system. Large sums of money have been expended in the construction of the line. Suppose it is shown that the railway has not for years past paid expenses, and will not pay expenses for years to come, will that be regarded as a case in which the taxation imposed upon the lands held by the company may be remitted ?
– No; there is no hardship in that.
– A State Government says to the representative of a company, “ We will give you ,£5,000,000 worth of land on consideration that you expend £5,000,000 in the construction of a railway to develop the country.” The company constructs the railway, in the belief that they will be able to sell the lands, and find that there is no market for them, even though they are offered on the most favorable conditions.
– The honorable senator is putting a purely hypothetical case.
– No, I am citing an actual case.
– Is £5,000,000 involved i
– No; the amount may not be more than £3,000,000, but, with the exception of the figures, the case is one which really exists. The company has been unable to cover its expenditure by disposing of the land, and has been compelled to borrow money on debentures, and to get the Government to guarantee their repayment. The Government are willing to issue the grants when the debentures are repaid, or when the land is sold and the purchase money handed to them.
– The honorable senator might add that the company has offered to hand over the railway and the land to the State.
– They must have made a serious mistake in the first instance.
.- No doubt they did; but I point out that if the railway had been built by the State, or if the State took possession of the railway and the land, the Commonwealth Government would not get a single penny of taxation from those lands.
– Let the company hand the lands back to the State.
– They have offered to do so, but the State will not take them back.
– 1 ask whether the case I have cited would be regarded as one in which serious hardship would be involved in the exaction of the full amount of the land tax. If we wish people to assist usin developing the country, we must give them a fair show, and treat them at least no worse than other individuals in the community. If this company went into liquidation, it would escape the liability to this taxation, because there would be no personal liability, and if a company goes into liquidation, it is wiped out as if it had never existed. If we introduce legislation of this character, we shall find ourselves confronted with all sorts of difficult cases. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that there may be a remission of taxation, because of losses from drought, flood, ticks, or fire, but I think it will be curious to note in how many cases there will be any remission of taxation for any of these reasons. This clause should be entirely eliminated. It should not be a matter of grace and favour to permit an individual who has become insolvent to be relieved of a liability which may be brought against him at some future time, when he has overcome his financial difficulties, and is in a position to do a little for himself and those dependent upon him.
– It is evident from the mental attitude of the Opposition that, in their opinion, poverty is a crime.
– I do not regard poverty as a crime, but I do not think that any man would care to have his poverty published from the housetop. If it is known that a man has got into financial difficulty, and the matter is talked about, his difficulty is increased, and it would always be objectionable for a man to be pointed at as a pauper because he went before this Board to be relieved of some of his liability in respect of land taxation.
– Honorable senators were not so solicitous for the old-age pensioners. They cannot get rid of a bad inheritance.
– Have the present Government attempted to get rid of the bad inheritance? It is necessary that the authorities should be satisfied that people claiming old-age pensions are entitled to receive them. This clause provides that where a remission of taxation is granted, a full statement of all cases in which, and the grounds on which, remissions of taxation have been granted, shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament. Surely we may trust the Commissioner of Land Tax, the Secretary to the Treasury, and the Comptroller- General of Customs to grant these remissions only in cases in which it would be reasonable to do so without requiring that all particulars connected with the cases shall be laid before Parliament. We do not call upon our Judges for a report of the particulars of the cases which come before them. It is possible that much mischief might be caused by the publication of the particulars in cases to which this clause is applied.
– I have directed the attention of the Vice-President of the Executive Council to consequences which may possibly arise from the operation of this measure. I have referred to the conflict which might arise under a previous clause between the Crown as represented by the Commonwealth authorities and the Crown as represented by a State authority in enforcing claims upon land. There is no doubt that, as soon as State officials learn that a land-owner is likely to become insolvent, or has suffered serious financial hardships, the Crown, represented by the State authority, will step in at once, and assert its claim, and where will the Crown, as represented by the Commonwealth authority, be then ? This clause really offers an inducement to State Governments to take action at once to secure any lien they may have upon land. They will not wait for the Commonwealth Government to take action. Every suggestion that is made from this side to secure some mitigation of the conditions to be imposed upon taxpayers under this Bill is laughed to scorn. I object to this clause, and am unable to understand why it has been introduced. I agree with Senator Millen that it is one of the most ridiculous things in legislation to give the officials intrusted with the collection of the tax under this measure a seat on this Board, which is to be appointed to release taxpayers incertain circumstances from their liability to pay the tax. Unless it is to be an appeal from the “ Commissioner drunk “ to the “ Commissioner sober,” it is absolutely stupid.
– The three officials who will constitute the Board will be men whose whole training will have accustomed them to reach out for the last penny for the public Treasury.
– They will all be experienced public servants who will have been swathed in red-tape bandages for thirty or forty years of their lives. They are the men who will have to sit in judgment on unfortunate land-owners. It would be a disgrace to the Senate if such a clause were allowed to pass without a protest. What sanctity is there about the Comptroller-General of Customs, or what infallibility of knowledge, or wisdom, or mercy is there in him, that in any case he should be allowed to say whether or not the land tax shall be remitted ?
– Suppose that the Minister of Trade and Customs should appeal to the Board ?
– The honorable senator has raised a nice question, which recalls an experience of the Lord Chancellor in lolanthe. This is the first time, I think, that a Parliament has ever been asked to confer on public officers the right to say whether or not a tax shall be enforced or remitted. I ask any honorable senator on the other side to cite an Act which empowers subordinate officials to say whether a man shall or shall not pay the full amount of his tax. It is only with certain reservations that such a power is granted to Courts. Is there any precedent, I ask, for any administration of the kind which is contemplated by this clause?1 It delegates the administration of the power of taxation and the power of remitting the tax.
– To whom would the honorable senator delegate this power ?
– I would not delegate the power at all. I cannot understand how the clause came to find a place in the measure. It is extremely dangerous for Parliament to delegate its power to impose or to remit taxation. At one time the Crown in England thought that through its servants it could with impunity screw money from the people, but it had to be taught a very bitter lesson on that point.
– In any circumstances the honorable senator would not make provision to meet a hard case?
– The answer to the inquiry is that we should not enact legislation which would involve such a condition of affairs.
– If a man with £50,000 worth of land is insolvent he ought to be out of it.
– That is a clear confession that the Government anticipate an appeal on behalf of some large land-owners. Evidently they contemplate the existence of conditions under which the imposition of this land tax will cause such hardship to some persons that they may have to part with their estates. Therefore, they say, in order to pretend to be merciful, “ If the case is extremely hard we shall appoint a Board of public officials to determine whether any remission of thetax should be granted.” If the Commissioner is intrusted with the power to levy the tax he ought to be allowed to deal with a hard case on his own responsibility, always being amenable to Parliament for an improper exercise of his discretion. A great parliamentary principle is involved in the clause, which was strongly objected to in another place , but, of course, unavailingly. In this way the Government are seeking to set up an extraordinary despotic bureaucracy. I feel sure that the officials themselves will revolt at the exercise of this power. Suppose that the Commissioner of Land Tax should say in a deserving case that the tax ought to be remitted. His colleagues on the Board will have to decide whether or not they shall overrule him. But suppose they are at loggerheads with one another. They will have to sit in camera and fight it out, but how they came to their conclusions the Lord only will know. Under the measure we can keep some hold upon the Commissioner, but we can have no knowledge as to in camera meetings of the Board until cases are reported and possibly some things are exposed which ought not to be revealed. Of course, there will not be the slightest attempt made on the other side to answer our objections to this provision. But I hopethat the discussion, both elsewhere and here, will deter any other Government from bringing down a provision of this kind. lt is one of the hollowest attempts at mercy which I have ever seen attempted. A man would almost prefer 10 ask for mercy from a’ sort of inquisition than to avail himself of the opportunity granted by this clause. He would rather go under than submit to laying his misfortunes and hardships bare before two or three public officials who might bandy them if they liked over a bottle of champagne at the club.
– They can only grant relief when it is too late to be of any practical use.
– Exactly. A strong-minded, honest man will scorn to avail himself of this way of getting out of his difficulties. It will only be availed of by a man who has lost all his wit and is asleep. I object to this power being delegated to public servants, whether they number three, or three hundred.
– It .seems to me that a good many of the objections which have been raised to the clause may be met by substituting may” for “has” in line 20, and makins; a similar alteration in the next clause, entitling a taxpayer to ask the Commissioner of Land Tax for the right to go before the Board.
– I would remind the honorable senator that an amendment has been made in a later part of the clause, and it is not possible now to go back.
-A taxpayer should be allowed the right to appeal to the Board before he becomes insolvent. I have suggested a method by which the clause could be made to meet the intention which I should think the Government must have in view, and that is that a man whose business is likely to be ruined by the payment of the tax shall have the opportunity of appealing to the Board before he is ruined, and not afterwards. I hope that in another place the Government will take an opportunity of substituting “may” for “has.”
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
– Sub-clause 2 of this clause provides that the- Commissioner shall be the chairman of the Board, and that the decision of the majority shall prevail. Why should the Commissioner be chairman seeing that the cases to be investigated will be cases upon which he has previously adjudicated ?
– This is not a case in which an amount of money is in dispute.
– It is a case in which a taxpayer thinks that he will bc. ruined if the tax be exacted from him. My ‘own idea is that the members of the Board should elect their own chairman.
– The objection has already been urged to the clause that a land-owner cannot approach the Board appointed to investigate his case until he has satisfied the Commissioner that it is one of hardship. If he is to receive fair play at the hands of the Board, I think that Senator St. Ledger’s suggestion should be adopted. Certainly its adoption would have the effect of making the Board more or less independent of the Commissioner. We all know that the chairman of any body wields great influence. If the Commissioner be a.i officer who is noted for his fairness, the other members of the Board will doubtless be willing to elect him as their chairman. But I do not think it is desirable to compel a land-owner to approach the Commissioner in the first place, and subsequently to force him to come before a Board of which the Commissioner is chairman.
.- As a matter of strict justice, I do not think tr,at the Commissioner should be a member of the Board at all, because he will practically sway it. But under this clause it is also proposed to appoint to the Board two of the hardest-worked officials in the Commonwealth service - men who cannot be expected to devote the time and attention that will be required of them to thoroughly investigate the intricacies ot these cases of hardship. To my mind, we ought to have outsiders on the Board.
Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) (8.4]. - I quite indorse the view that the Commissioner will be out of place on the Board, seeing that the taxpayer, before his case can come before the Board, will have to satisfy him that it is one of hardship.
– He has to make out a primafacie case.
– No. The Commissioner must be satisfied that his case is one of hardship.
– Let us negative the clause if that will suit the honorable senator.
– Does Senator Givens wish to do that? He cannot expect those who, because they are unable to obtain justice, wish to secure mercy for a hard-pressed taxpayer, to assist him in striking out the clause? I will undertake to say that there is not one honorable senator who will seriously urge that it squares with our idea of fair play to provide, first, that the Commissioner must be satisfied that a case of hardship has been made out, and, secondly, that that officer shall afterwards act as one of the judges on the case. But we cannot now amend that portion of the clause which places the Commissioner in a position of authority.
– I think it was the honorable member’s party in another place which asked for the appointment of two additional members to the Board.
– I am not complaining of that. My point is that the landowner has no right of appeal to the Board. To make that tribunal of any value to a hard-pressed taxpayer, he should have the right to approach it. Under this clause he can approach it only after the Commissioner himself has been satisfied that his case is one of hardship.
– But it is the Commissioner who has to consider the whole question. The honorable senator would have all the taxpayers in the country becoming insolvent.
– I do not suppose that even a taxpayer will become insolvent, even to please the Government.
– Why should he be released if he does become insolvent? Has not the Crown as good a right to share in his estate as have the other creditors?
– I see no reason why the Crown should not take its share of the dividend of an estate, in common with other creditors. It could then declare that the unpaid portion of the debt should be regarded as extinguished. But before a land-owner can plead for a little mercy at the hands of the Board appointed to investigate his case, he has to run the gauntlet of the Commissioner, and the Commissioner has to determine whether the benefits of this clause shall be extended to him. However, by accepting the amendment of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, we have passed the point at which we can consider a proposal for the removal of the Commissioner from the Board. Consequently, no amendment which can be submitted now will achieve the object which honorable senators upon this side of the Chamber have in view.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 65 agreed to.
Clause 66 -
Any person who -
Fails or neglects to duly furnish any return as and when required by this Act or the regulations, or by the Commissioner ; or
Without just cause shown by him refuses or neglects to duly attend and give evidence when required …. shall be guilty of an offence.
Penalty : One hundred pounds.
– I do not see any provision in this clause for the payment of the expenses of any person who may be haled before the Board. Australia is a very big country, and a man may be required to travel hundreds of miles to attend the Board.
– This clause is not intended to apply to witnesses.
– Of course it is.
– A man is brought before the Board as apossible offender.
– Any person who is required to do the things which are required of him by this clause is a witness. Provision should therefore be made in it for the payment of expenses in cases where men are brought long distances.
– Oh !
– That is the usual scornful taunt of a man who does not care what happens. It is perfectly sickening to witness the way in which legislation is brought before this Chamber.
– We know how it used to be brought before it.
– At any rate, there was some semblance of honesty in the way in which it used to be brought forward.
– Is it in order for the honorable senator to impute dishonesty to the Government?
– If the honorable member did that, he is not in order.
– The clause does not say that any “ taxpayer “ may be brought before the Court, but any “ person.” If the word “ taxpayer “ were substituted for “ person “ I could understand the provision. But any person may be subjected to considerable expense by being haled before this tribunal.
– A man will be protected by the words of paragraph b - “ without just cause shown by him.” Suppose that I were required to travel from here to Sydney, I could show just cause why I should not do so if I could prove that I had not the money to pay my way.
– I think that Senator McColl has discovered a mare’s nest. If he will look at sub-clause 3 of clause 63, he will see that provision is already made for that for which he is contending.
– No; that refers to the Commissioner’s witnesses.
– To test the feeling of the Committee, I move -
That the word “ person “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ taxpayer.”
– I presume there will be a form of return prescribed for persons who are required to pay this tax? If so, there ought to be a column in that form showing what is the local assessment.
– I think it would be wise if honorable senators would consider for a moment what this clause means. It deals with offences against the Act, and if Senator McColl will turn to clause 63, he will find that it provides that the regulations may prescribe scales of expenses for witnesses and others who are summoned before the Commissioner. The provision which is now under consideration deals with witnesses or taxpayers who, when they do come before the Commissioner, give false evidence, or who refuse to come before him when summoned to do so. This clause merely deals with an offence that may be committed under the Bill. The provision for which Senator Walker asks is really contained in clause 63.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 67 - (1.) Any person who, with intent to defraud, in any return understates the unimproved value of any land, shall be guilty of an indictable offence
Penalty : Five hundred pounds and an amount equal to treble the amount of the tax which would have been evaded if the value stated in the return had been accepted as the unimproved value of the land; or forfeiture of the land undervalued or any part thereof. (2.) Where the value stated in the return is less, by twenty-five per centum or more, than the value as found by the jury, the value shall be presumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to have been understated with intent to defraud.
– This clause is rather curiously constructed, and it impinges upon the practice affecting the relations existing between solicitor and client. When a jury has gone so far as to determine that an undervaluation equals 25 per cent., in the absence of evidence to the contrary it is provided that a -prima facie case of fraud shall be held to exist. It is probable that many land-owners will make their valuations with the aid of their solicitors, as is frequently done in the case of income tax returns. But under the Income Tax Acts of the States the privilege affecting the relationship of solicitor and client is respected. It is feared in this case, however, that that privilege will be taken away. The subject has exercised tha minds of members of the profession.. I have advised the Vice-President of the Executive Council, through his secretary, and he knows the quarters from which representations have been made to me. I addressed a telegram on the subject ti a solicitor, whose name I shall not mention, though I have supplied it in confidence to the Vice-President of the Executive Council. This gentleman had previously directed my attention to the subject, and I drew his attention to another aspect of it. The gentleman to whom I refer is one of the most eminent lawyers in my own State, and one who, as a constitutional authority, is equal to the very best in Australia. I asked him to consider certain points of view, and the following is the answer which I received from him -
Re your telegram on the Land Tax Bill I much fear that in any proceedings for forfeiture the privilege of solicitor and client would fail. The evasion or attempted evasion would be a criminal action, and I rather think that - assuming the competence of the Federal Parliament to pass this measure - all communications between solicitor and client leading up to and connected with the offence would be available to the Crown, but not any subsequent communications between solicitor and client with reference to the defence of the person accused of the offence.
It is very difficult not to see the force of
I’-it anticipation. I suggest that communi- cations bond fide and honestly made between solicitor and client as to the valuation of land for the purpose of this measure ought to be protected. At present there is only this protection - that the proceedings have to reach the stage of going to a jury before an intent to commit fraud can be declared. I am inclined, on further consideration of the matter, to agree with my friend, whom I have consulted, that once that point has been reached all privilege is gone. The intent to defraud having been established by the verdict of a jury, the common law rule would prevail that the privilege attaching to communications between solicitor and client had entirely gone. The only hope one might have in such a case is that possibly the Courts might construe the ordinary meaning of the word “ fraud “ or “ conspiracy “ as not being the same as the meaning of the term “ fraud “ used in this clause. But, nevertheless, it may be that solicitors, when they consider this subject, will refuse to advise their clients, because, if they give advice, and their clients, acting on it, submit their valuations to the Land Tax Commissioner, the client, standing on the advice of the solicitor, may find himself, by reason of the land having been held to have been undervalued 25 per cent., brought before a jury, where a case may be found against him. In such a case the plea of privilege would not prevail. I have very eminent authority - one that I respect very much indeed - in support of my view. I am sure that the Vice-President of the Executive Council will also respect the authority to whom I allude. The only safeguards that the profession could have would be that the proceedings must go through various stages before they can reach a jury ; and, secondly, that possibly “ fraud,” as used in this clause, is not the kind of offence which the Court must construe as identical with “ fraud “ as ordinarily understood. Some solicitors, however, wish to know how they stand in this matter. Some have gone so far as to say that they will have to consider the position gravely before they will advise in matters arising under this Bill. I hope that their fears are unfounded. The Vice-President of the Executive Council might, at any rate, give some assurance as to what will be the effect of the clause in a case of the kind.
– I can assure Senator St. Ledger that no honest lawyer need be afraid of anything that can happen under this Bill. A client can go to his solicitor, and ask for his assistance in carrying out his obligations, and the solicitor will be able to assist him to the full. I am sure, however, that Senator St. Ledger would be just as earnest as any one could possibly be in desiring to prevent anything in the nature of fraudulent collusion between a solicitor and his client. Whenever the transactions of a solicitor and client are perfectly legitimate, and the client is honestly seeking to fulfil his obligations, and his legal adviser assists him to do so, if an error is made by either or both, no Commissioner of Taxes who will ever be in the service of the Commonwealth would decline to give fair play to the parties. It is admitted that mistakes may be made, and when it can be shown that there has been no collusion between the solicitor and the client to do a wrong, no one would desire to treat them harshly. I am certain that no honest lawyer need be afraid to take on the business of an honest client, and assist him in filling in his returns. The confidence which should exist between solicitor and client will be inviolable unless guilt is proved before a jury against either or both.
Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (New South Wales) [8.25].- Senator St. Ledger has drawn attention to a difficulty that might arise in connexion with the position of a solicitor and his client in connexion with a prosecution under clause 67. The matter is one upon which the Vice-President of the Executive Council can hardly be expected to furnish the Committee with a legal opinion. I think that we need more particularly to direct our attention to the peculiarity of the clause in its general application. I offer no opinion in regard to the relations between solicitor and client. I have my own opinion as to what the position would be; and it does not give me any great apprehension. But, apart from that aspect, I wish to point to a matter that has been raised by the Law Institute of New South Wales. When this Bill was first introduced, correspondence took place between the representatives of the Law Institute and the Attorney-General. Very strong protests were made as to the action taken by the Government in regard to the burden of proof. It was pointed out most strongly to the AttorneyGeneral that in this Bill the Government were abandoning accepted principles of British jurisprudence and legal practice. The Attorney-General, in reply, briefly defended himself by saying that there were other instances in which a similar practice had prevailed. He pointed to what had been done under the Customs Act. In reply, it was pointed out that the provisions of this Bill go very much further than does anything contained in the Customs Act, and the argument was again pressed upon the Attorney-General with great force. But all to no purpose. I have read the whole of the correspondence which passed. The question as to whether the practice proposed to be pursued is unEnglish, or contrary to our usual practice, has been in debate between Mr. Hughes and, I suppose, a score of legal men, who have given this matter very particular attention. There was a strongly-marked difference of opinion. On the one side there was the opinion of Mr. Hughes, and on the other side there was the opinion of the men who represented the Law Institute - some of whom have had a lengthy experience as practising members of the legal profession, and who, by the reason of the knowledge acquired during their professional career, were assuredly as competent as any one in Australia to give an opinion as to the effect of the proposed law, and as to how it corresponds and compares with the law generally known to British subjects. Here we are proposing to create what is termed an indictable offence, for which a man may oe put upon his trial before a jury. Certainly, the penalty provided is a pecuniary one; but if the penalty be inflicted upon any individual, and he is not able to pay the sum prescribed, there is a method of “taking it out” which is not much better for him than would be the case if he were sent to gaol for misdemeanour in the first instance. The one principle that has been ground into the mind of every one who has studied British law has been that every man is to be held to be innocent until he l.as been proved to be guilty. Of course, that principle developed from a system that was pursued in less merciful clays, when suspected persons were tortured until they confessed. Fortunately, the days of endeavouring to extort a confession from an accused person have gone, as far as British jurisprudence is concerned. A more humane law has been allowed to come into being, under which a man is presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty. But under this Bill, a man is to be presumed to be guilty until he proves himself innocent. In speaking earlier this afternoon, I pointed out that, in the days when we were learning logic, we were told that it is impossible to prove a negative. Under this Bill the Government call upon a taxpayer to prove a negative wherever it is possible to launch a prosecution against him. A man against whom the evidence may appear to be very black indeed may be charged with murder, but he will not be convicted unless a jury is satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that he is guilty of the offence with which he is charged. He is not called upon to prove that he is innocent. It is for the Crown to prove his guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. That is a practice adopted as the result of centuries of experience in the administration of the law in Great Britain. But while a man who is charged with murder or any other serious crime is given the benefit of the doubt, a man who undervalues his property is to be presumed under this Bill to be guilty of having done so with intent to defraud “the revenue.
– Because nobody knows better than he does whether his valuation is correct or not.
– Nobody knows better than the man charged with having committed a murder whether he is guilty or not, but he is not called upon to prove his innocence. If, in the opinion of a jury, a taxpayer has undervalued his property to the extent of 25 per cent, or more, it is presumed under this clause that he did so with intent to defraud, in the absence of evidence to the contrary. Is this a reasonable provision? Is this legislation which this Parliament, representing an enlightened people, should in the twentieth century be called upon to pass? Is this fair play or British justice, and can honorable senators opposite defend it for a moment? The Government under this Bill do not accept the responsibility of proving their case when haling a man on a charge of this character. We should bear in mind that every law we pass may be regarded as a precedent, and may later on be quoted to justify a similar law or a law of even a more stringent character. We have been referred to the Customs Act for an instance of a similar provision.
– There is a similar provision also in the Australian Industries Preservation Act.
.- I know that that Act has been referred to also, but the provision in that Act is not identical with this provision.
– The honorable senator’s friends in the State Parliament of New South Wales passed a similar provision in the Licensing Act.
– That is no justification for this clause.
– The statement is not correct.
– Assuming that it is correct, it is the work of a Government which Senator Rae and his friends have been denouncing as one of the worst and cruellest Governments that ever held office in New South Wales. The honorable senator would justify this clause by the action of a State Government he has been condemning.
– I do not, but I say that as the honorable senator’s political friends passed a similar provision in the State, he has no right to condemn it here.
– Even assuming that the honorable senator is right in his statement, it does not justify the Committee in passing this clause, and from his point of view it should be a strong reason why he should not support such a provision in this Bill. I should like to know where we are to find a precedent for this clause. We are referred in clause after clause to similar provisions in the New Zealand or New South Wales Acts. There is no marginal note to this clause to show where it is taken from. Perhaps it emanates from the fertile brain of the Attorney-General. He has probably said, “ We shall make this Bill so drastic and shall provide in it for all sorts of pains and penalties so that wicked men who have made money may be sent to gaol if we can manage to send them there.”
– It is the Caucus that passed this clause.
.- I assume that every Bill submitted by the present Government has been reviewed by the Caucus as well as by Ministers, and it may be also by some Trade and Labour Councils, who pull the strings outside this Parliament.
– We know that the Opposition have had a caucus upon it.
.- That is not so. We may consider measures together, but on this side we are free to do as we like.
– Honorable senators opposite do whatever the Employers’ Federation tell them to do.
– That is no doubt an answer to my reference to Trade and Labour Councils, but Senator de Largie knows quite well that the Employers’ Federation do not pull any strings on this side. I should like to know who is to be held responsible for this proposal to render a man liable to a heavy penalty, or to be sent to gaol without proof of his guilt being first established ?
– The jury has, first of all, to find that the taxpayer has undervalued his property to the extent of 25 per cent, or more.
– I am aware of that, but in the absence of evidence to the contrary the undervaluation is assumed to have been made with intent to defraud. Under clause 46, for the protection of the revenue against the undervaluation of land, certain steps may be taken if it is considered that a taxpayer has undervalued his land to the extent of 25 per cent, or more, and unless the taxpayer satisfies a Justice of the High Court that he has not undervalued his property with intent to defraud, the land may be acquired by the Commonwealth at the owner’s valuation, plus 10 per cent.
– How many poor men are dealt with every day in our Courts on the assumption that they are guilty, because something is found in their possession which does not belong to them?
– It is true that if a man has stolen property in his possession for which he can give no account, he is liable to punishment under some of our Police Acts, but that is a very different thing. I say that the vicious principle which is contained in this clause is also contained in clause 46. Under that clause the taxpayer’s land may be resumed at the aluation he has put upon it, plus 10 per cent. In this clause the Government go a step further, and for a similar offence propose that a man may be haled before a Court, and charged with an indictable offence. Clause 46 is introduced to protect the revenue, and it would appear that this clause is introduced to enable the Government to fine an unfortunate taxpayer £500 or send him to gaol. In clause 69, referring to clauses 67 and 68, it is provided that -
Where on the conviction of any person under either of the last two preceding sections the penalty of forfeiture of any of his land has been imposed the Governor-General may by proclamation declare that the estate or interest of that person in the land is forfeited to the Commonwealth.
So that a man may be haled before a jury for having understated the value of his property by 25 per cent. or more; that is presumed to have been done with intent to defraud, and then power is taken to declare the land forfeited to the Commonwealth, and it is provided further that the taxpayer shall not be entitled to any compensation. Not satisfied with the penalty which might be imposed under clause 46 for the protection of the revenue, the Government, under this clause, propose to hale the unfortunate taxpayer before a Criminal Court, and have his land forfeited to the Commonwealth. It is honest, indeed, for the Government to put a provision of this sort in the Bill ! It is fair, indeed, to the taxpayers, and to the community at large !
– That is what we want to secure.
– When the honorable senator does, as he probably will later, submit a Bill to reduce the exemption, a good many of the small land-owners who are quite willing to accede to a law of this character to-day will begin to find how unpleasant and unjust it is when it is applied to themselves.
– I suppose that you favour no exemption?
– If you had proposed no exemption at all, what would have been the position of the community in regard to such legislation? It would take a braver party than the Labour party to attempt to run it through Parliament. I cannot forbear pointing out that in clause 68 we shall find that a very similar provision is made so that there shall be no loop-hole of escape from the punitive provisions of a law which may be administered honestly or dishonestly. A nation’s character can be estimated very frequently by a study of its legislation. If legislation is enacted which is unfair to however small a portion of the community, people will regard that nation as one not standing in the front rank for generosity and honesty. A section of the community, whether it be a large or a small one, is entitled to an equal measure of justice. Whether a man be rich or poor, he should stand equal with his fellowmen in the eyes of the law. Honorable senators on the other side should not try to hedge this tax round with all sorts of pains and penalties.
– Give him a loop-hole.
– No. I ask honorable senators on the other side to show a precedent for the action which they are taking.
– The Acts of the Apostles.
– I have not that confidence in the ability, judgment, and knowledge of this Federal Parliament to believe that it possesses more of those qualities than any other Parliament in the world. I challenge the Minister to cite something more recent than the Acts of the Apostles to defend this particular provision.
– The honorable senator does not despise the Acts of the Apostles ?
– No. But I want the honorable senator to point out the particular act of the Apostles which justifies this clause.
– What you despise is the Apostle of this Act.
– I have not a great opinion of him.
– Many Parliaments have had the knowledge and the wisdom to enact a law of this kind, but never the courage to do so.
– It is remarkable that the courage to enact such a measure should have been reserved to this Federal Parliament under the leadership of the Labour Government. I heartily congratulate them upon their courage. I also congratulate the country and the Parliament upon having exhibited such courage. The VicePresident of the Executive Council stated that the Australian Industries Preservation Act contains a like provision in regard to a similar matter. Section 7 contains a provision in regard to unfair concessions by persons, and a man is rendered liable to a penalty of £500. Sub-section 3 reads -
It shall be a defence to a prosecution under this section, and an answer to an allegation that a contract was made or entered into in contravention of this section if the party alleged to have contravened this section proves that the matter or thing alleged to have been done in contravention of this section was not to the detriment of the public, and did not constitute competition which was unfair in the circumstances.
How any honorable senator can rely upon that provision as a precedent for charging a man who has undervalued his land with an indictable offence, I am at a loss to know. It is probably the product of that great wisdom and courage which is supposed to exist in the breasts of the authors of this measure. Under that section, it is a question of whether what a man has done has been to the detriment of the public or constituted unfair competition. That is entirely different from an offence which renders a man liable to be sent to gaol. It certainly provides for a penalty of £500, but it does not deal with the question of an indictable offence, or of putting a man in the dock, and charging him with having wickedly and falsely, and with intent to defraud, committed a particular offence. On the contrary, it deals with that which is almost a civil offence, with the case of a man who has done something which our artificial law says is either to the detriment of the public, or competition which is unfair.
– You must not forget that it will be entirely the man’s own fault if he gets into the dock.
– It may not be. Why should it be necessary to emphasize . again and again differences in valuations which have been cited ?
– Remember the big margin.
– That has been shown to be a very poor margin. The other day, Senator Millen cited cases in which there was a difference of from 100 to 140 per cent, in the valuations which Government valuers had placed on land which the Crown was going to acquire, and the valuations on the other side showed almost equal disparity. I assume that the Government selected men who they believed were competent valuers, and yet they found such great differences in the valuations.
– They made a mistake.
– Of course, somebody made a mistake; but when such differences occur, does it not show how easy it is for the most honest man to find Himself in a difficulty?
– And the valuers are all supposed to be disinterested experts.
– Yes. On several occasions, I have quoted a case in Sydney in which two well-known firms valued a city property for the owner at ,£6,000 and ,£10,000 respectively. Under this measure, a difference of that kind would be enough to get a man into trouble. I hope that before honorable senators disgrace the Parliament and the statute-book by enacting legislation of this character, they will pause and see if they cannot adduce some argument that will reconcile it to consciences which are not absolutely seared and so hardened as to be quite impossible of being reached by any means.
Senator McGREGOR (South AustraliaVicePresident of the Executive Council) [8-53j- - I am rather surprised at the attitude assumed by honorable gentlemen on the other side. Who are the persons whom they are attempting to defend? Persons who, in the opinion of a jury, have deliberately undervalued their land.
– The provision applies only to -men who, in the opinion of, not the Commissioner of Land Tax or anybody else, but a jury, deliberately make an undervaluation. The honorable gentlemen on the other side are defending persons who attempt to evade taxation, who commit fraud, and are not prepared to meet their obligations to the country. They are aggrieved because there is no side-note indicating where clause 67 is taken from. I innocently said that it was taken from the Acts of the Apostles; and I am prepared to maintain that position. Honorable senators will recollect that there was a decision arrived at that all Christians were to make an inventory of their goods and chattels and send it into the church. Ananias and Sapphira made an inventory such as some of the individuals whom honorable senators are defending would attempt to make. The schedule of Ananias and Sapphira was found to be fraudulent. The Government are not so cruel to the taxpayers of Australia as to exhibit to them the mercy which was shown to Ananias and Sapphira. They were struck dead for their fraudulent conduct. I am sure the Commonwealth Government and Courts will fall far short of forfeiting the lives of persons who undervalue their properties with intent to defraud the Commonwealth, and who are prepared to do anything they possibly can to undervalue their estate for the purpose of evading taxation. That is what honorable senators opposite are standing up for. They may deny it as much as they like, but” the object of these three clauses is to prevent that sort of evasion ; and they are no more drastic than the law set forth in the Acts of the Apostles.
– I certainly am surprised, after the statement made by the Leader of the Government, that he should have had the audacity even to show that he had a knowledge of the fate which overtook Ananias and Sapphira. I should have thought, after the accusation lie launched against this side, that the historical characters lie would have thought fit to blot out from his memory were the two unfortunates to whom he referred. I should imagine that the honorable senator, in this particular case, would have so profited by that incident, that he would have hesitated to make the accusation which he did to try to mislead the Committee - he cannot hope to mislead himself, because he knows better - that we on this side are seeking to say a single word for those who commit a fraud.
– You are doing nothing else; the clauses are directed against that.
– If the honorable senator makes that statement, I say at once that the fate which fell to the others is likely to overtake “him if he does not repent very shortly.
– No fear.
– It is an absolute and monstrous misrepresentation of the facts of the case; and nobody knows that better than does the honorable senator. By this clause, he is not seeking to sheet home guilt to guilty people, but is trying to throw upon those who are charged the imputation of guilt before they are proved guilty. What would be said by honorable senators on the other side if, in an industrial measure prohibiting strikes, a proposal had been made to insert a provision that any strike leader was to be held guilty of fomenting and organizing a strike until be proved his innocence?
– Without a trial.
– Even the honorable senator, who is prepared to swallow all that this Bill contains, would rise up and indignantly dispute a proposal of that kind.
– I know what would happen to the honorable senator; he would ba wiped out.
– If such a proposition were made here, every member of the Labour party would rightly oppose it.
– There is no analogy.
– Of course, there is not in the honorable senator’s mind. He wants one law to deal with one class and another law to deal with another class. Under this clause, you hold a man whose judgment is so far astray that his value of his land varies 6y 25 per cent, from that of anybody else guilty of a certain offence until he proves his innocence. It deals with what is termed in the Bill an indictable offence. Even at the risk of being guilty of repetition, I want to remind honorable senators of some figures which I gave the other day, than which no stronger evidence can Be sought or wished for. I refer to the case in which the Lands Department of New South Wales sent out one set of its own officials to value land which it was then selling, and a few months later sent out another set of officials to value the same land when it required to re-purchase it under the Closer Settlement Act. The valuations of these two sets of officials varied from 40s. to 60s. per acre, a difference of 50 per cent’.
– The honorable senator should get away from New South Wales for his illustrations.
– Then I will take the Maribyrnong estate in Victoria. In that case, the official valuations ranged from £35 to £70 per acre, a difference of 100 per cent. The valuations made on behalf of the vendors were made by the most competent valuators of this State-
– There was no penalty attached to their system of valuation, otherwise their valuations would have been a bit nearer to each other.
– Under this clause, there is no penalty attachable to the valuations of Government appraisers when they go into the witness-box to give evidence against a land-owner. They enter that box free from any penalty.
– And free from bias.
– If they be free from bias, what can be said of the discrepancy between the valuations of the officers of the New South Wales Government, to which I have already referred ? Ought those officials to be held guilty of a criminal offence unless they can prove their innocence? If an attempt were made to introduce this principle into any Bill save this one, which has been specially marked down and designed for the persecution of land-owners, it would be universally condemned. It is all very well to say that Government valuators are free from bias, but that circumstance did not prevent the New South Wales officials from arriving at vastly different valuations. I believe that Government officials are free from conscious bias, but I entirely dispute the assertion that they are free from bias. As Senator Rae knows perfectly well in connexion with Land Court work in New South Wales, it may be taken for granted that the Government officials run along the one track. It is marvellous to note the unanimity with which they deal with cases.
– Just as it is marvellous how honorable senators opposite entertain the same view, but never, never caucus.
– There is no need to caucus on this question. If by caucus, the honorable senator refers to party conferences, nobody will dispute that every political party holds conferences between its members. The difference between the Labour caucus and that of our political party is that under our system every member of the party is free to act as he chooses. He is not pledged to follow the dictates of the majority. The Labour caucus binds the conscience and votes of the minority, whereas our caucus does not. I say that the Vice-President of the Executive Council cannot find, even in’ the Biblical historical incident to which reference has been made, anything to justify the theory that a man should be deemed to be guilty until he has established his innocence.
– Surely the honorable senator does not pretend that he has any knowledge of the Acts of the Apostles?
– I do not know that an interjection of that kind has much bearing on the question. But if I were looking for instruction in the Bible, I should not go to the honorable senator for it. I am quite prepared to set my utterances and attitude upon this clause in contrast with the utterances and attitude of the honorable senator for the purpose of showing who has profited most by the teachings of the Bible. The provision comes into conflict with every line of that teaching.
SenatorChataway. - Especially with that line which says, “ Thou shalt not steal.”
– I have not the slightest objection to the imposition of a heavy penalty upon any land-owner who is found guilty of fraud.
– Then to what does the honorable senator object?
– I object to a man being assumed to be guilty until he has proved his innocence. I object to the onus being thrown upon him of establishing his innocence. If it were proposed to apply the same principle to the theft of a threepenny pocket handkerchief from a shop, honorable senators opposite would denounce it.
– The principle is already embodied in British legislation.
– It is not. The one feature which distinguishes British legislation from Continental legislation is that under the former a man is presumed to be innocent until his guilt has been established.
– It is very seldom that we act upon that assumption.
– It is acted upon every day in our Law Courts. Day after day men are acquitted because there is some measure of doubt as to their guilt. But under this clause we say that the accused must prove his innocence.
– In the absence of evidence to the contrary, as found by the jury. The honorable senator should look at the second part of the clause.
– If the evidence is that the value of a man’s land is 25 per cent. more than that which he has returned. he must accept the responsibility of proving that he is innocent of any attempt to defraud the revenue. The clause says that if the jury determine that a landowner has undervalued his land by 25 per cent., that circumstance in itself will convict him of fraud. No appeal is provided for.
– Yes, there is.
– Where is it?
– The clause says “the value as found by the jury.”
– Where is the appeal provided for?
– The land-owner can appeal afterwards.
– I wait for my honorable friend to show me where theright of appeal is provided. To what Court can a land-owner appeal? The clause unmistakably declares that if the jury find that a land-owner has undervalued his land to the extent of 25 per cent., that circumstance shall establish his guilt, unless evidence to the contrary be forthcoming. I venture to say that if we attempted to apply the same principle to a case of petty larceny, no party would oppose the proposal more strongly than would my honorable friends opposite. Then why should they adopt, in this Bill, a different principle from that to which they would adhere so tenaciously in dealing with other offences?
– I think that the Leader of the Opposition has seldom been so vehement in an attempt to convince himself as he has been upon the present occasion, and with such little success. If any honorable senator were convinced by his remarks, certainly it was not Senator Millen. From his very repetitions it was plain that he was trying hard to convince himself that the sophistries to which he was giving utterance were really argument. What is the charge made against the Government in connexion with this clause? It is that we are taking an unparalleled course in laying upon the land-owner the onus of proving that his valuation is not one which was made with intent to defraud. It has been said that this is a new principle in legislation. But both the Leader of the Opposition and Senator Gould know that it is by no means new. Senator Gould, in an endeavour to throw us off the scent, quoted a section from the Australian Industries Preservation Act. But he did not quote the right section. If he will look at section 15A of the Act of 1906-1909, he will find the following : -
In any prosecution for an offence against sections 4, 7,7A,7b, or 9 of this Act, the averments of the prosecutor contained in the information, declaration, or claim, shall be deemed to be proved in the absence of proof to the contrary, but so that -
The averment in the information of intent shall not be deemed sufficient to prove such intent, and
In all proceedings for an indictable offence the guilt of the defendant must be established by evidence.
That is one case which proves that the principle which the honorable senator condemns so vehemently is not a new one in legislation. When he says that we cannot point to a similar provision in State legislation he knows perfectly well that the States possess what the Commonwealth does not, namely, a criminal code. Whenever a person is found guilty of an indictable offence against a State Land Act, the State does not need a provision in that Act to enable it to sheet home the offence, because it can have resort to its criminal code. So much for the attempt which has been made to induce the Committee to believe that there is something novel in this principle. Honorable senators also know that a somewhat similar provision to that which we are now discussing is to be found in our Customs Act. Let me come now to the attempt to make it appear that the mere proof of undervaluation of land by a land-owner to the extent of 25 per cent. will convict him of intent to defraud. That was Senator Millen’s argument. Anybody who urges that, is either guilty of speaking without having read the clause, or of deliberately refusing to attach to it the only meaning which can attach to it. Sub-clause 2 reads -
Where the value stated in the return is less by 25 per centum or more than the value as found by the jury, the value shall be presumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to have been understated with intent to defraud.
Two things have to be established before the defendant can be convicted of intent to defraud ; not merely one thing, as Senator Millen tried to make out. There is not only the opinion of the jury as to the value of the land, but also the finding of the jury on the evidence before it. The jury will be composed of men who know something about the value of the land. They will have evidence laid before them on which to form an opinion of that value. The prosecutor will have to bring evidence to establish his view of the value, and the defendant will likewise bring his evidence. Moreover, the jury will know when they give their verdict that if their finding is that the value given by the defendant was 25 per cent. below the value established by the prosecutor, then, unless the defendant can bring evidence to establish his innocence of intent to defraud, their finding will be equivalent to a conviction of intent to defraud. I say that any jury knowing that will be careful to come to what they believe to be a just decision as to the value. Furthermore, the Judge has not merely to take the decision of the jury. He will have something more than that before him. He will have on the one side the evidence of the prosecutor, who will endeavour to establish a case of intent to defraud. On the other hand, he will have the evidence of the defendant, who will endeavour to establish his innocence and to Show that his valuation was bond fide. Senator Gould and Senator Millen have been guilty of trying to mislead this Committee and of endeavouring by sophistical arguments to make it appear that this clause has one effect only, and that the mere fact of undervaluation will completely establish the guilt of a man who has had no opportunity of defending himself or of establishing his innocence.
– I did not say that.
-Colonel Sir Albert Gould. > - That is a misrepresentation.
– A simple reading of the clause shows that not only has the defendant an opportunity of establishing the justice of his valuation before a jury of his countrymen, but he also has an opportunity of adducing evidence to prove that his valuation, wrong as it may be, was made bond fide.
– That does not save him.
– Yes, it does. Senator Millen well knows that the clear meaning of the clause is that, notwithstanding that the true value was 25 per cent, more than that represented by the defendant, nevertheless, if there is evidence that he made it bond fide he will not be guilty of intent to defraud. If Senator Millen denies that, he is not so intelligent as I have always given him credit for being. One has only to read the clause to see that die meaning is clear. After the inadequacy of the value has been proved, then the evidence of the absence of intent to defraud has to be declared to be inadequate before there can be a conviction ; and I say that if you establish those two things - if you first of all establish before a jury that the value is more than 25 per cent, below the real value ; and, secondly, that the valuation was not a bond fide one - there is no justification for defending men who have been guilty of a valuation so far below what, in the opinion of the jury of the defendant’s countrymen, is a just and true one. If to defend men of that character is in accordance with what honorable senators opposite regard as the true mission of an Opposition in Parliament, I can only reply that the Government are prepared not only to stand by this clause, but to justify it on any platform in the country.
– I can quite sympathize with the stress with which my honorable friends opposite are driven when they have to resort to the miserable contention that the Opposition are simply seeking to defend criminals. Senator Pearce, I venture to say, would be the last’ to say privately, in the friendly intercourse of private life, what he has thought it fair to say by way of argument against his political opponents to-night. When the honorable senator was talking about the case that I brought before the Committee he referred to a Judge. Now, what has a Judge to do with this matter?
Absolutely nothing. The Judge has not to say a single word as to whether the accused is guilty or innocent. He simply has to accept the decision of the jury on that point. The honorable senator knows quite sufficient of our Courts of Justice to know that it is not the Judge but the jury who finds a person guilty on the evidence.
– Has the honorable senator never heard a Judge say, “ There is no evidence to go to the jury in this case “ ?
– That is a matter of law, not of fact.
– Senator Pearce knows perfectly well that if the evidence disclosed that there had been a greater undervaluation than 25 per cent., the Judge could not possibly keep the case from the jury. My honorable friend has asked us to believe that a jury in a case of this kind, knowing the penalty attaching to an offence, would not do their duty. In other words, he stated that a jury, knowing the penalty imposed for the undervaluation of land, would wilfully fail to do their duty, and would bring in a verdict in favour of the taxpayer. I have a better opinion of the jurymen of this country than to believe that if the evidence was clear they would not bring in a verdict in accordance with it. I refuse to believe that a jury would be influenced and swayed by the severity of the penalty to find an accused person innocent when they believed him to be guilty.
– When did the Minister say that?
– The Minister said that the jury, “ knowing the penalties under this clause, would be careful to give a just decision.” What did that mean?
– It meant that a jury would have to have overwhelming evidence of fraud before they would convict an accused.
– They would not need to have evidence of fraud, but of undervaluation to the extent of 25 per cent. Now, either this clause means what it says, or it ought to be struck out of the Bill altogether.
– It certainly means what it says.
– Here, then, is what it says -
Where the value stated in the return is less than 25 per centum or more than the value as found by the jury, the value shall be presumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to have been understated with intent to defraud.
– Is not that elastic enough ?
– If it were elastic the honorable senator would not be supporting it. The whole purpose is to throw upon the taxpayer the burden of proving his innocence. The Minister himself said that if there was any discrepancy between the values the defendant would have an opportunity of proving his innocence. I say that our laws ought to proceed on the assumption that the Crown has an opportunity of proving the guilt of the accused, and that, if that guilt is not proved, conviction ought not to follow.
– The Bill gives him a second chance.
– I have no time for a man who interjects in that manner. The man ought never to have even one chance of establishing his innocence. The obligation ought to be upon the Crown to prove his guilt.
– How would the jury come to the conclusion that the valuation was 25 per cent, less than it ought to be?
– On the evidence.
– That shows that the Commissioner will have to take evidence.
– Yes; but the point is that, the evidence having been given, and the jury saying “ We find that the value of thi> land is 25 per cent, more than the accused returned it at,” conviction will follow.
– There is no presumption of guilt there.
– But the clause itself says that where the value stated is less by 25 per cent, or more than the value as found by the jury, intent to defraud is to be presumed. Let us assume that a man returns his land as being worth £100, and that the jury concludes that it is worth ^125. The moment that is done this follows - the value shall be presumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to have been understated with intent to defraud.
– “ In the absence of evidence to the contrary.”
– That is the whole point - that the man, having returned his land as being worth 25 per cent, less than the jury have found it to be. he is presumed to have returned that value with intent to defraud.
– Unless there is evidence to the contrary.
– My complaint is that, the undervaluation having been proved, the obligation is thrown upon the land-owner of proving his innocence.
– Of proving that the undervaluation was not with intent to defraud.
– Exactly. That is the whole point.
– In the first instance, the case has to be made out before the jury.
– Exactly. I do not care how much you establish that the valuations have differed. The point is that the difference having been proved, the intent to defraud is presumed.
– The land-owner has an opportunity of proving that he did not undervalue with intent to defraud.
– If it were done with intent to defraud, it should be for the Crown to prove the fraud. We should not throw upon the taxpayer the obligation to prove his innocence.
– The Crown will prove the fraud.
– If they are to do so, I have nothing more to say. The only amendment of this clause that I seek is to throw upon the Crown the responsibility of proving a man charged with fraud guilty of the offence, a responsibility which is accepted by the Crown in the case of every other person charged with an offence. Why should a person accused of an offence under this Bill be placed in a class apart from all. other accused persons? Why not put him in the same class as every other person against whom the Crown launches a charge, and who is entitled to an acquittal if the Crown fails to sheet home to him the charge launched against him?
– The Crown proves the undervaluation, and the land-owner should then, in justice, prove that it was not made with intent to defraud.
– Are honorable senators opposite prepared to say that if one man differs in the valuation of a property from another to the extent of 25 per cent., that difference should be regarded as sufficient to justify the presumption of an intent to defraud?
– It is not.
–Under this Bill it is, because the responsibility of proving his innocence of any intent to defraud is thrown upon the man who has made the lower valuation.
– He is given a chance of doing so.
– What a great concession to give him ! Probably the honorable senator would like to see him sent to gaol without being given such a chance. Would any member of the Committee hold a man guilty of fraud because his valuation of land was 25 per cent, less than the valuation of some one else? I am sure that the majority of honorable senators would hesitate to do so.
– A property might be undervalued 50 per cent., and any intent to defraud be entirely absent.
– Just so; but if a taxpayer’s valuation of his property, under this Bill, exceeds 25 per cent., he is charged with an attempt to defraud the revenue, and the onus of proving his innocence of such a charge is thrown upon him.
– The honorable senator has stated the case correctly at last.
– I have been saying that all the evening. The mere fact that his valuation is 25 per cent, less than the valuation of the jury, under this clause, leaves the jury and the Judge no option but to place the taxpayer in the position of having to answer a charge of fraud, and to prove his innocence. 1 do not mind his being called upon to answer a charge of fraud, but he should have to answer it as a ,person accused of any other offence would. He should be placed in the dock, the charge should be read over to him, and the Crown should accept the responsibility of sheeting home the charge. The Government are not prepared to extend to a man who owns land in this country the treatment ordinarily extended even to criminals, tie is to be put in a special class, and told, “ We do not undertake to prove your guilt. The obligation rests with you to prove your innocence.”
– The honorable senator is talking to the pavilion now.
– It is a gratification to me to have some one to talk to.
– There are too many on this side for the honorable senator, that is his trouble.
– My honorable friend need not run away with the idea that I had any thought of being able to sway his vote. I had not. But I do desire to place it on record that, to the best of our ability, we on this side have made a protest against introducing into this Bill a provision which says that a man, merely because his valuation differs from that of another to the extent of 25 per cent., or more, shall be called upon to prove his innocence of a charge of intent to defraud. We protest against the establishment in this Bill of a special method of procedure for those charged with an offence under it. In the case ot other accused persons the Crown accepts the responsibility of proving their guilt ; but, under this Bill, in order to carry out their land-tax ideas, the Government propose to make a special criminal of the land-owner, and if his valuation of his property is 25 per cent, less than that put upon it by some other persons, to call upon him to prove his innocence of any intent lo detraud the revenue.
; - When, in dealing with these penal provisions, we have asked for precedents for this drastic legislation, we have been referred to the Customs Act. We have been told that the precedent for the forfeiture of land, under clause 46, is to be found in the Customs Act. But the provision in the Customs Act is absolutely opposed to this. Section 254 provides that - (i.) In every Customs prosecution the defendant shall be competent to give evidence.
That is a protection for the defendant if he wishes to avail himself of it. I ask honorable senators to mark the limitation in subsection 2 of the same clause, which reads -
In every Customs prosecution, except for an indictable offence or for an offence directly punishable by imprisonment, the defendant shall be compellable to give evidence.
We are dealing in this clause with an indictable offence, and the section I have quoted from the Customs Act makes definite provision that a person charged with such an offence under that Act shall not be compelled by the Crown to give evidence. Every lawyer knows the advantage of such a provision to an accused person. In prosecutions where husband and wife are concerned neither is a compellable witness against the other. There may be pri.ua facie evidence that they have been together guilty of the grossest crime, but neither party can be used by the Crown to give evidence against the other. We have seen how this provision is availed of in some instances. Where- a man and a woman have been charged with an offence, and have been allowed out on bail, they have married in order to take advantage of this provision of the law. A case of the kind occurred in Melbourne. A man and a woman were charged with a diabolical offence, and the evidence produced by the police was very strong. It seemed that the man was in “Queer-street,” but he married the woman.
– I rise to a point of order. I wish to know whether what the honorable senator is saying is relevant to the clause under discussion? We are not dealing with the question of compelling persons to give evidence, but with the question of whether the onus of proof shall lie upon a taxpayer under certain circumstances.
– I was under the impression that Senator St. Ledger was quoting cases to illustrate his argument.
– I was trying to show how the criminal law in connexion with the gravest of offences protects the interests of accused persons. I say that under this Bill, the Government are depriving the owners of land of privileges and protection given to the greatest criminals in the land. I quoted from the Customs Act, to which we were referred for a precedent for this legislation. I shall now quote section 255 of the Customs Act to show the procedure under that section, which says -
In every Customs prosecution the averment of the prosecutor or plaintiff contained in the information, declaration, or claim shall be deemed to be true in the absence of proof to the contrary -
– The very same words as are used in this clause.
– The honorable senator has jumped too soon. The section goes on to provide - but so that -
That is particularly strong.
– So it must be under this clause.
– That is not so. It is infamous to say that, because we point to a departure in this clause which denies to a land-owner privileges granted to the lowest criminal in the land, we are doing all that we can to stand by criminals in attempts to evade land taxation. That is utterly absurd. We have no sympathy with criminals, or with any person who may seek to evade the payment of land tax once this Bill becomes law. It is to the greatest discredit of the Government, and shows how hard driven honorable senators opposite must be, that they should make such a charge against us for directing attention to departures in this measure from the ordinary criminal procedure.
– There is a similar provision to this in section 5 of the Immigration Restriction Act.
– I have quoted from the Customs Act, to which we were referred for a precedent to this legislation, and that reference has been blown to pieces. I have no doubt that a similar distinction might be drawn between this provision and the provision of the Australian Industries Preservation Act and the Immigration Restriction Act, to which we have been referred. Supposing a man is charged with the larceny of a pair of boots, and these facts are found : First of all, that the boots were not his own, and, second, that he took them. Suppose that the jury found those two facts, and asked the Judge, “Is he guilty of larceny, because we found the two facts?” The Judge would be bound, in law, to say, “ No, you cannot find the man guilty,” and if he did not so instruct the jury, and the man was found guilty, the conviction would be quashed on appeal. In the case I put, the Judge would be bound to say to the jury, “ Unless you are satisfied that the prisoner intended to deprive the owner of the ownership of the boots, you cannot return a verdict of guilty.” But, under this clause, the jury are to find the one fact, and intent to defraud is to be presumed. We ask the Government to follow the criminal procedure as it is laid down in a simple case of larceny.
– Suppose that the boots were stolen and found in your possession ; would you not have to prove how you got them?
– Certainly not. In the case I put, the jury have to find on three points, and if they are not satisfied on the third point the Judge is bound to instruct them that all the facts must be proved affirmatively, and the prisoner is not called upon to give evidence. Under this clause, if the value is understated by 25 per cent. or more, and the jury find that fact, the owner has to prove that there is no intent to defraud, just as in a case of larceny the Crown is called upon to prove an intent to deprive the owner of the ownership of goods. In a criminal case, the intention is the gravamen of the offence. The mere fact of a man killing another is not proof of murder, because in every case the Crown has to prove malice, and if the jury are not satisfied as to any one of three elements, the prisoner must be acquitted. But as regards intent to defraud under this clause, you transfer the onus of proof, and call upon the owner to prove the absence of such intent. The jury will not be allowed to say to the Judge, “ We are not satisfied that the evidence on behalf of the Crown shows an intent of malice.” If in the case of the killing of a man a jury gives that finding, the Judge is bound to say, “ The prisoner is not called upon to prove anything. The Crown must give such evidence of intent that you can have no doubt on the subject, and, until it does so, you must discharge the man.” It is at this point where honorable senators opposite differ in dealing with land-owners. They ask the jury to find one fact only, and the important element in the offence - the intent to defraud - comes in. The onus is thrown on the accused owner, and he must prove his innocence. Seeing that that is not required in the gravest case under the criminal code, why should it be required under this Bill ? We ask honorable senators to put landowners, at least, on a level with the greatest criminals in the land. That is the main reason of our objection.
– I think it would be well for the criminal classes if loose lawyers of. the type of Senators St. Ledger and Gould, and shall I say bush lawyers of the type of Senator Millen, were sitting on the judicial benches, or even acting as magistrates. Suppose that a man were arrested at Flemington, and that 25 per cent, of the coin found in his possession consisted of bacl sovereigns. Does not Senator St. Ledger think that the man would have to prove to the satisfaction of both Judge and jury that he did not have those coins in his possession with intent to defraud before he would be found not guilty? The honorable senator might be found innocently in possession of a bad sovereign.
– It is to be hoped that the Crown would not be such an ass as to bring the charge in that form.
– I do not know how the Crown would bring the charge, or what kind of ass it would be; but I can quite imagine the honorable senator coming innocently into possession of a bad sovereign at Flemington, and innocently trying to pass it, and being caught in the act. To my mind, he would certainly have to prove his innocence ; but the chance is that he would not be arrested unless the authorities were satisfied that there was an intent to defraud. Suppose that a man who was found in possession of 25 per cent, of bad coin appeared before a jury. I venture to say that in Victoria, where we get British justice as unpolluted as in any other part of the British Empire, he would have to prove to the satisfaction of both Judge and jury that he had the sovereigns in his possession without any intent to defraud, before he would be acquitted. Under this clause, the jury will have first to decide that the owner has really under-valued his land by 25 per cent. ; and it may not be a very easy thing to do that. I can quite understand a man who is accustomed to value land in one locality going to another locality and making a mistake. If a man has not been in possession of his land for a considerable time, but has recently purchased it, he knows its value to a farthing. But if he has been in possession for a considerable time, what better person can there be to value it than the man who knows every pennyworth of the improvements on it, and every pennyworth of the value which it possesses? I venture to say that honest land-owners will not thank the Opposition for the fight which they have been putting up, because, if there is one privilege which they will value more than another, it is the right of being trusted to value their own land. It is all very well for honorable senators opposite to arrogantly assume that they alone represent the land-owners in the Senate. I venture to say that they do nothing of the kind. They represent one section of the land-owners, and that is the section on whose behalf they are trying to create loopholes, so that they may fraudulently under-value their lands. I simply look upon honorable senators, judging them by their arguments, as part of that .section of the land-owning community who want loopholes so that they may be able to fraudulently undervalue their lands and escape scot-free.
– I do not intend to follow the legal intricacies as’ to whether the undervaluer should be asked to prove his case or not; because I think that Senator Gardiner has effectively replied to the arguments brought forward by the other side. I am in a difficulty with regard to the clause. It provides that any person who undervalues with intent to defraud, or understates the unimproved value, shall be guilty of an indictable offence which, as in every other case, shall be tried before a jury. lt goes on to provide that where the value stated in a return is less by 25 per cent., or more than the value as found by the jury, the value shall be presumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to have been understated with intent to defraud. Now, when a man is guilty of an indictable offence, the degree of his guilt is not a question for the jury to decide. He is either guilty or not guilty ; and the only duty with which a jury will be charged in the case of an offence under this clause, will be the duty of stating whether the owner was guilty of understating the value of his land or not, and not as to whether he understated it by 25 per cent, or more. In my opinion, sub-clause 2 is altogether out of place. I should like an explanation from the Minister on this point; because he cannot point to a single case under our law of where a jury is charged with the duty of saying what the particular value or non-value or the particular percentage of value of the indictable offence is. In every case, the jury is charged with the duty of saying whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. That is the only duty with which a jury will be charged under this clause. 1 want the Minister to explain how he is going to find out whether an under-estimate of value was 25 per cent, or more, seeing that no jury can possibly be charged with that duty?
– I think that the simplest way out of the difficulty will be to delete sub-clause 2 ; and, therefore, I move -
That sub-clause 2 be left out.
Why should you presume a thing if the evidence does not satisfy you? The clause is quite complete without the provision.
– Whenever any honorable senator upon this side of the Chamber expresses a doubt in regard to any word which appears in a clause, or in respect of the dotting of an “ i, “ some member of the Opposition rises to submit an amendment.
– I told Senator Gould an hour ago that I intended to move the amendment which I have proposed.
– Then the honorable senator embraced a very opportune time to move it. An hour is a very long time to consider the propriety of submitting an amendment. The honorable senator waited till a supporter of the Government questioned the advisableness of including certain words in the clause before he took action. It seems to me, therefore, that he is guilty of fraudulent intent to deprive this side of the Chamber of a vote. But I wish to point out that the legislation which we are now enacting differs in many respects from all other legislation that we have placed upon the statute-book. Under this clause an undervaluation by a landowner to the extent of 25 per cent, or more must be proved before any intent to defraud can be established. If it cannot be proved that the undervaluation was made with intent to defraud, there can be no case against the land-owner. The Commissioner has first to prove that there has been an undervaluation to the extent of 25 per cent, or more, and the onus is then thrown upon the taxpayer to establish the fact that that undervaluation was not made with intent to defraud. If an undervaluation of 30 per cent, were made by a land-owner, in the absence of intent to defraud, he would not be adjudged to be guilty.
– But we cannot presume that until after the jury have brought in their verdict.
– The jury have to be satisfied first that there has been an undervaluation to the extent of 25 per cent, or more, and secondly, that that undervaluation was made with intent to defraud. If a person were accused of stealing a pair of boots, it would only be necessary to prove that he had stolen them to secure his conviction. Similarly, if a man were accused of killing another, the fact that he had killed him would of itself be sufficient to prove his guilt. It would not be necessary to prove that he had killed him with intent to cremate him. The clause is perfectly clear as it stands, and I hope that it will be carried.
.- Ministers have charged honorable senators upon this side of the Chamber with a desire to stand up for those who wish to defraud the revenue. They must be utterly destitute of argument when they make such a charge. They know perfectly well that no member of the Opposition would dream for a moment of defending fraud. I am no apologist or defender of , any person who attempts to defraud the revenue) but I object to this clause, because I believe that under it there is very grave danger that innocent persons will be placed in the dock and subjected to severe penalties. The powers conferred upon the Commissioner under the Bill will be enormous - so enormous that any conscientious man may well be pardoned for hesitating to undertake the duties imposed upon that officer. The clause says that any land-owner who undervalues his land with intent to defraud shall be liable to exceedingly heavy penalties. Who can determine whether there was any such intent save the land-owner himself? Instances have been cited in which there has been an honest difference between the valuations made by competent valuers of too per cent. Senator Gardiner has stated that the land-owner himself is the best judge of the value of his land. I utterly deny that. I know of men who have sold land for 50 per cent, less than its value because they did not know any better. This is a very peculiar Bill. If a definition had been given to the term “ improvements,” the position would have been much clearer. But as the measure stands, we do not know whether ring-barking, grubbing, or draining will be regarded as improvements. Under the clause an innocent man may be haled before the Court, and placed in the dock as a criminal merely because he has endeavoured to comply with the provisions of the Bill. The penalty imposed is a very severe one for what may be an innocent offence. A land-owner can only follow his judgment, and we cannot tell whether or not in his heart he is endeavouring to defraud the revenue. Further, the clause contemplates the forfeiture of land if its owner should undervalue it to the extent of 25 per cent, or more. Thus, not only the land-owner may suffer, but also his wife and children. For an offence which may not have been intended, they may be deprived of a home. That is the iniquity of the clause.
– If a land-owner has no intent to defraud, his wife and children will be all right.
– How can he show that? He may say that he believed that his valuation was a fair unimproved valuation. He may urge that it was based upon a sale which took place so many years ago, or he may contend that it w:as based upon the municipal valuation. Yet his plea may not be accepted.
– Each of these pleas would be a good defence.
– The land-owner is to be tried first, and the jury are to return their verdict afterwards. Personally, I cannot understand how any Government can introduce legislation of this description. Some method should be devised bv which we can detect an offender, and punish fraud without resort to such a provision as this, which may sweep into the net innocent persons who may not only find themselves in gaol, but absolutely deprived of their land. However, I recognise that it is idle to argue with honorable senators opposite, and, therefore, I shall content myself with entering my protest against legislation of this description, which I am sure will not tend to elevate the public opinion of this Parliament.
– I think that honorable senators opposite, instead of accusing Ministerial supporters of having made diabolical charges against them, should look a little nearer home. There is no objectionable term in the dictionary which his not been applied to us in connexion with our desire to tax land values. Over and over again we have been told that our action is tantamount to plunder and robbery, that it is infamous and vindictive, that it evidences a revengeful spirit, and that we regard every land-owner as a criminal. With regard to the clause itself, although I do not profess to have the legal ability to construe it as Senator Givens has clone-
– The only question which a jury will be asked in connexion with an indictable offence is whether or not the accused is guilty.
– I assume that those who are responsible for the drafting of the Bill have considered all these matters. Therefore, I do not attempt to judge of the legal phraseology of the clause. But, speaking as to its effect, it appears to me that what the Opposition are demanding will practically be effected by the working of the clause. I do not think that a great number of land-owners will be haled before the Court on a criminal charge. But I do believe the clause will act as a valuable deterrent against undervaluation. It is not class vindictiveness, as alleged by honorable senators opposite, which actuates me to say that in regard to land there is a considerable temptation to undervaluation and fraudulent practices. That is no charge against the majority of land-owners. The statement that some land-owners may be guilty of fraud no more casts an imputation on the great body of them than the statement that some persons steal implies that every one is a potential thief. The clause will tend to prevent fraud, and will restrict inclinations in that direction. Its practical operation will be as follows : A land-owner will be suspected by the Commissioner of considerably undervaluing his land. After making due inquiries, the Commissioner will find that there is a very good case against the suspected individual. He will proceed to put the law in motion. A jury will have to be impanelled, and will necessarily consider ali the evidence that can be adduced b” the Commissioner and by the landowner. The question as to how the valuations have been arrived at will be prominently brought before the jury. That is the crucial factor in the whole matter. The question that Senator St. Ledger has covered up with a cloud of verbiage, as to persons being compelled to give evidence, does not affect this clause at all. A landowner will say. “ I engaged so-and-so to make this valuation, believing him to be a reliable man.” The means followed for arriving at the valuation will be explained to the jury, which will look into the facts in a calm, rational, and business-like way. In that way the clause will operate as a valuable deterrent, checking those who might otherwise be careless or neglectful of their duty in furnishing valuations. There has. been a great deal of carelessness in the past in connexion with State and municipal Valuations. The desire to avoid trouble will induce some land-owners to err on the right side - that is, in favour of the Commonwealth - rather than submit themselves to possible expense and indignity by making a wrong valuation.
– That is, they will submit to be’ blackmailed ?
– It is not blackmail. The hostility of honorable senators opposite to this proposed legislation is inducing them to leave possible loop-holes for individuals who may wish to commit fraud. It has been argued that under British law a man is not deemed to be guilty unless he has been proved to be so. But, in the event of a person being found with goods in his possession that do not belong to him, and which are suspected of being stolen, the person would be prima facie liable to be charged with being in possession of stolen property, and would have to prove his innocence. Senator Gardiner has humorously illustrated the case of a person found unlawfully in possession of goods, and being required to prove that he came by them honestly. This Bill imposes no penalty upon an honest man. The safeguard for an honest man is the jury, and if the Commissioner cannot make out a good case to the satisfaction of the jury, the charge will fall to the ground.
– I see no reason why honorable senators opposite should allege that this clause indicates a cruel tendency on the part of the Government. Most of us have noticed an unfortunate tendency on the part of a number of people, who are perfectly honest when dealing with individuals, to act upon quite other principles when they have to pay a tax levied by a Government. I believe that this clause is sufficiently drastic to shut down on any attempts of that kind. The remedy proposed is very simple. Where fraud is alleged, a case has to be made out to the satisfaction of the jury. Surely even Senator McColl cannot maintain that a person is likely to be found guilty of fraudulent practices by a jury of his countrymen unless the evidence of his guilt is clear. It is unthinkable that under this clause an innocent person can be found guilty of fraud. First, a jury has to be satisfied of undervaluation to the extent of 25 per cent, or more; and, secondly, that the undervaluation has been made with a view to defrauding the revenue. I cannot see how any hardship is placed upon landowners by reason of the provision. It is alleged by the Opposition that the principle of the clause is bad, because it calls upon the accused to prove his innocence. In the first place, however, a case has to be made out to the satisfaction of the jury; and. in the next place, the accused has ample opportunities of giving evidence on his own behalf. I may point out for the benefit of Senator St. Ledger that section 211 of the Queensland Mines Act provides that -
The occurrence of any accident in a mine shall be prima facie evidence of neglect on the part of the owner or manager.
So that when an accident happens in a Queensland mine the law presumes guilt on the part of the owner or manager unless he can prove his innocence. Consequently, there is nothing novel in this clause. Nor does it go quite so far as Senator St. Ledger alleges. In the interests of protecting the revenue against fraud, a drastic provision of the kind is required, and I think that the clause is admirably adapted for the purpose in view.
Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia [10.28]. - It appears to me that honorable senators opposite have overlooked the controlling words of the clause. They are these - “ with intent to defraud.” I contend that any person owning land who purposely makes an undervaluation with intent to defraud the revenue ought to be held guilty of an indictable offence. Senator McColl has tried to make out that a person who unconsciously made a false return would be penalized and haled before a Judge and jury. But the undervaluation must have been made with intent to defraud before that can be done.
– Who is to judge of that?
– When the landowner is accused, ample opportunity is given to him to prove that he did not make the false return with intent to defraud the revenue.
– If the tax were on the improved value, the honorable senator’s contention would be right. But it is not correct in regard to a tax on the unimproved value.
– I am speaking of a tax on the unimproved value. We have had experience in three States of taxation levied on the unimproved value of land. So far as I know, there has been only one case where a man has been penalized for undervaluing the unimproved value of his estate.
– There is no State in Australia in which a taxpayer is called upon to value his own land as he is under this Bill.
– There is, and the honorable senator was informed of the fact the other night. I know of one gentleman who undervalued the unimproved value of his estate, and suffered the penalty of the law for so doing.
– It has been the practice in Western Australia for a long time.
– Under the Land and Income Tax of Western Australia of 1907 owners of land are compelled to value not only the unimproved, but the improved value of their estates, and there is a penalty attaching to an undervaluation. I do not wish to mention the name of a gentleman who undervalued his estate, and was penalized by a fine. This clause gives every taxpayer liable to taxation under this Bill all the ordinary privileges afforded to citizens by British law and justice. There is no intention here to penalize any honest citizen called upon to give a return of the unimproved value of his estate, but if any taxpayer returns an undervaluation with intent to defraud he will be haled before a Judge and jury of his peers. There is nothing novel or unjust about that.
– How can a man prove intent?
– If Senator Walker and I had an altercation outside, and I assaulted the honorable senator, he would have to prove that I did so with intent. I cannot understand why our honorable friends opposite should attempt to excite pity for a taxpayer haled before a Court under this clause, and charged with intent to defraud in undervaluing his estate.
– I am in hearty accord with the intention of this clause, but I do not approve of its construction. I hope the Government will not take up the attitude that the Bill as introduced must necessarily be perfect. The whole of our experience in legislation proves that Bills as introduced are ordinarily very imperfect. Three-fourths of the time of Parliament is taken up in remedying the defects cf previous legislation. That being so, it will hardly be contended that the construction of this Bill is absolutely beyond cavil. In this clause the Government are striving to do something which they will be unable to do as the clause is drafted. They wish to make the undervaluation of land an indictable offence. They propose that the taxpayer shall be called upon to prove his innocence of an intent to defraud if he has undervalued his estate to the extent of 25 per cent, or more. If he has so far undervalued his estate the presumption under this clause is that he is guilty of an intent to defraud. The difficulty is that the Government are presuming something after the case is closed, and the taxpayer is given no chance of refuting the charge made against him. There are very many cases in English law in which the onus of proof is thrownon the defendant, but it is thrown on him at the beginning of the case, and he is given an opportunity to prove his innocence. Under this clause a certain- thing is presumed after the jury have found it, and the taxpayer is given no chance at all.
– Not at all.
– I shall read the provision to show that what I have said is an absolute fact. Sub-clause 2 of clause 67 provides that -
Where the value stated in the return is less by 25 per centum or more than the value as found by the jury, the value shall be presumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to have been understated with intent to defraud.
At what time do the jury come to their finding ?
– Has the honorable senator never heard of a jury returning a verdict that something was done with, or without, an intent to defraud ?
– That is not what is provided for in this clause. The first part of the clause is all right, and reads -
Any person who, with intent to defraud, in any return understates the unimproved value of any land, shall be guilty of an indictable offence.
Under our law any person charged with an indictable offence has a right to be tried by a jury.
– There are two things found by the jury - the undervaluation and the intent to defraud.
– Under the first part of the clause a person who, with intent to defraud, understates the unimproved value of his land, not to the extent of 25 per cent., but to any extent, is held to be guilty of an indictable offence, but in sub-clause 2 we have a direction to the jury. Can an Act of Parliament give a direction to a jury in an indictable offence? For an indictable offence the person charged has a right to be tried by a jury.
– Under this clause the defendant is charged, and the jury find him guilty or not guilty. If they find him guilty there are two counts to the indictment - one the undervaluation, and the other the intent to defraud.
– I have no objection to that. The taxpayer is guilty or rot guilty of an indictable offence, but under this clause we place upon the jury a further duty. We ask the jury, after til the evidence is closed, to decide whether the taxpayer has undervalued his estate. If they decide that he has done so he is presumed to be guilty of an intent to defraud. I’ say that if we are going to presume an intent to defraud on the part of a taxpayer we should do so at the beginning, and not at the end of the < ase.
– They have heard the evidence in the meantime.
– If I am going to be charged with an indictable offence in which I risk the loss of my liberty and the imposition of severe penalties, and I am going to be presumed to be guilty, I wish, in common fairness and justice, to be presumed guilty at the beginning of the* trial, and not at the end of it.
– So a man is presumed to be guilty, or he would not be put on trial before a jury.
– A man is not presumed to be guilty merely because he is charged with an offence. Under the British law, with some important exceptions, a man is presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty. The honorable senator’s statement is unadulterated bunkum, because it means that all that is necessary in order to presume that a man is guilty is to arrest him and charge him with an offence. Some of the most innocent of men have been arrested and charged with offences. Even in cases where the onus of proof is thrown on the accused person, he is not presumed to be guilty. A man is not presumed-
– The honorable member has said that about fifty times already.
– I shall say it fifty times more if necessary. Because the Government happen to be the authors of a Bill, the honorable senator, like most of those who sit at the Ministerial table, thinks that it represents absolute perfection.
– The honorable member can vote against it.
– I shall please myself about that. I want to see our Acts made as nearly perfect as possible.
– Will not the evidence which shows the undervaluation show by what means that evidence was obtained ?
– The jury will be in possession of all the evidence, but in the case of an indictable offence they cannot be charged with the duty of saying what degree of offence has been committed. If they decide that a man has been guilty of understating the value, it will not matter whether it is by 1 or 50 per cent. 1’he intent to defraud will have to be proved, and, if the intent is there, the man is equally guilty and ought to be punished.
– Is the honorable senator going to repeat these statements all night?
– The honorable senator, because he happens to be the comic relief of the Government, thinks that everything ought to be regarded as a mere joke. I consider that this is very serious business, and that it ought to be treated seriously. I have asked the honorable senator for information as to why the clause appears in this particular form, and have failed to get it. The clause is the acme of bad drafting and bad construction.
Question - That sub-clause2 be left out (Senator Walker’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … …12
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 68 (Evading taxation).
– In both this and the next clause there is room for a reasonable difference of opinion, but in view of the result of the division just taken and the hour of the night I do not propose to offer any further objection to the passing of the Bill as it stands. It is not to be assumed, however, that we approve of these provisions because we take no action to amend them.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 69 (Forfeiture of land for fraudulent evasion, &c.).
– It seems to me that this provision as to forfeiture is entirely unjust and unwarranted. With the exception of treason, there is no other offence under the law of Great Britain or Australia in respect of which a man’s land may be forfeited. A man may commit a murder without being dispossessed of his property.
– The Customs Act provides for the forfeiture of a man’s goods under certain circumstances.
– But in no other case save that of treason is provision made for the forfeiture of the offender’s land. With the Leader of the Opposition, I can only protest against this clause, which I believe to be utterly unfair, and with that protest I must content myself.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 70 to 72 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Motion (by Senator McGregor) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
.- Will the Vice-President of the Executive Council be good enough to state the order of business for to-morrow after we have dealt with the motion for the adoption of the report from the Committee on the Land Tax Assessment Bill ?
. -We shall deal, first of all. tomorrow with the message from the House of Representatives in regard to the Northern Territory Acceptance Bill. We shall then deal with the report of the Committee on the Land Tax Assessment Bill. We propose to recommit the Bill, in order to make two small amendments, and then to pass the measure through its remaining stages. After that the Senate will be invited to consider the Naval Defence Bill and the measures to provide for amendments of the Constitution, in the order in which they’ appear on the business-paper, as well as the Navigation Bill,
– I suggest to the VicePresident of the Executive Council that he should make his second-reading speech on the Constitution Alteration (Legislative Powers) Bill before the Senate is asked to deal with the Naval Defence Bill. That will give honorable members an opportunity to study his speech.
– We wish the two Bills relating to defence to be before another place at the same time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.56 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 2 November 1910, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1910/19101102_senate_4_58/>.